Breaking down the conference finals goalie matchups


The third spherical of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs is about, with 4 groups left standing.

Which groups needs to be assured in purpose? Which ought to have considerations? Learn on for my ideas heading into the convention finals.

Colorado Avalanche (1) vs Edmonton Oilers (2)

Darcy Kuemper (COL): 9 GP, 6-2, 2.44 GAA, .904 SV%

Pavel Francouz (COL): 2 GP, 2-0, 2.97 GAA, .902 SV%

Mike Smith (EDM): 12 GP, 8-3, 2.70 GAA, .927 SV%, 2 SO

Mikko Koskinen (EDM): 2 GP, 0-1, 5.23 GAA, .865 SV%

Kuemper has received six of eight begins this postseason for the Avalanche, however I believe it’s been actually tough for the 6-foot-5 netminder from Saskatoon to seek out any rhythm. Colorado is averaging simply 27 photographs towards per recreation – the bottom of any NHL group within the 2021-22 postseason.

I’ve been in Kuemper’s skates earlier than, enjoying behind an immensely gifted group that doesn’t quit an entire lot of probabilities. It’s not straightforward to remain centered when the puck is continually on the different finish of the ice.

Throughout Colorado’s second-round matchup towards the St. Louis Blues, I believed Kuemper was wonderful. He made the saves essential to win the sequence. There have been instances the place I believed his actions weren’t as crisp as they wanted to be, and his puck-tracking suffered. He was crushed clear on a number of events, and his .892 save proportion in the course of the sequence displays that.

St. Louis and Edmonton have similarities. Each groups are good on the frenzy and have deadly energy performs, however the Oilers have an X-factor in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that St. Louis didn’t. Kuemper goes to be challenged by McDavid’s pace and arms in tight, and Draisaitl will be capable of expose seams on lateral performs.

Kuemper isn’t an excellent skater, and that considerations me going through Edmonton. I believe the much less time Kuemper spends within the white ice, the higher. The Avalanche goaltender wants to remain near dwelling and reduce distance traveled.

And therein lies an fascinating apart to this goalie matchup: Kuemper could be smart to take a web page out of the Mike Smith e-book of goaltending.

The 40-year-old Oilers netminder is infamous for enjoying deep in his crease – virtually on the purpose line at instances. Whereas I’m not suggesting Kuemper mimic Smith, I do suppose enjoying with a barely extra conservative depth would assist Kuemper’s recreation.

Very not often does Smith depart your complete internet open. He virtually at all times has an opportunity on the play as a result of he doesn’t have to maneuver far to get sq.. Sure, generally that leaves lots of house for the shooter on a clear alternative, however Smith trusts his reads and reflexes.

Up to now on this yr’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Oilers are giving up 37.5 photographs towards per recreation on common, however a lot of these have been from the surface. As a result of Smith is ready to arrive early on account of his conservative depth, he’s in a position to management his rebounds.

There have been regarding moments for Smith. Within the first spherical towards the Los Angeles Kings, he flubbed a puckhandle that got here again to hang-out him, and in Recreation 1 of the third spherical towards the Calgary Flames, Smith allowed three objectives on 10 photographs and was pulled after simply over six minutes of motion.

What I discover spectacular is his resilience. Smith bounced again with a win after every of these robust outings – together with a 30-shot shutout in Recreation 2 towards the Kings. 

Smith’s 3.40 objectives towards common towards Calgary is an efficient reminder of why that statistic may be misleading. He went 4-1 within the second spherical with a .907 save proportion. Smith noticed lots of rubber and was in a position to make the saves crucial to shut out video games.

With no disrespect to Los Angeles or Calgary, Smith goes up towards a very completely different animal within the Avalanche. Colorado has blown by the primary two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs with little resistance. Smith could be sensible to review up on the Avalanche’s rush recreation – one thing Blues goaltender Ville Husso was unable to manage.

Smith’s puckhandling will play an necessary function on this sequence. The Edmonton breakout is constructed round his passing capability. Colorado has to maintain the puck away from him – one thing the Avalanche didn’t do nicely towards Jordan Binnington early of their second-round matchup towards St. Louis.

I believe the group that comes out on prime on this sequence will characteristic a goaltender who’s stolen at the very least one recreation, perhaps extra. Smith already has on this yr’s postseason. Can Kuemper steal one towards McDavid and the Oilers? I believe he’ll have to if Colorado needs to play for the Stanley Cup.

New York Rangers (2) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (3)

Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL): 11 GP, 8-3, 2.22 GAA, .932 SV%, 1 SO

Igor Shesterkin (NYR): 14 GP, 8-5, 2.68 GAA, .928 SV%

Alexandar Georgiev (NYR): 2 gp, 0-1, 2.04 GAA, .935 SV%

Vasilevskiy has received the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons and shortly cemented his legacy as one of many best clutch performers within the historical past of the game. Since 2020, he’s an ideal 10-0 in potential elimination video games. Vasilevskiy has an NHL-record six series-clinching shutouts to his identify, and he simply helped the Lightning sweep the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers within the second spherical of this yr’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

Regardless of a sluggish begin towards the Toronto Maple Leafs within the first spherical – Vasilevskiy posted an .892 save proportion – it didn’t take lengthy for “The Huge Cat” to seek out his recreation. He was lights out in Video games 6 and seven towards Toronto and carried that momentum into the second-round matchup with the Panthers.

At this level, it’s extra than simply Vasilevskiy’s approach or psychological energy that’s profitable video games for the Lightning. It’s the intimidation issue. Florida didn’t have a solution for Vasilevskiy, who allowed solely three objectives in 4 video games. Nets had been missed. Performs had been pressured. These items occur when a goalkeeper will get into the thoughts of the opposition.

Standing 6-foot-3, Vasilevskiy is simply over common top for an NHL goaltender, however he performs a lot larger. Vasilevskiy prefers a excessive stance when the puck is at a distance, which aids his mobility. He’s an excellent skater, and Vasilevskiy has the flexibleness and dexterity to match his psychological athleticism. The Lightning netminder can break approach in favor of creativity when known as upon.

Two issues stand out that Vasilevskiy should be ready for when going through the Rangers: New York’s glorious rush recreation and a excessive quantity of site visitors in entrance. The Rangers have gamers like Chris Kreider and Andrew Copp, who’re glorious in transition, and New York’s energy play is very deadly when defenseman Adam Fox is sifting pucks to the online with our bodies converging across the blue paint.

The most effective a part of this sequence is the head-to-head battle that can happen between Vasilevskiy and Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. In a single crease stands the very best cash goaltender on the earth. Within the different crease stands the very best goaltender of the 2021-22 NHL common season. Each are Russian.

Shesterkin is just in his second full-time NHL season, however he’s a mature athlete at 26 years of age. Shesterkin was a standout goaltender within the KHL for 3 years earlier than making the bounce to North America in 2019.

There’s little question Shesterkin goes to win the Vezina Trophy because the NHL’s prime goaltender this season. He even has an out of doors probability at profitable the Hart Trophy because the league’s MVP. 

{Hardware} apart, Shesterkin has propelled the Rangers to the place they’re now. New York has given up an inordinate quantity of high quality probabilities towards, however Shesterkin has been in a position to cowl up for his group’s defensive lapses.

I believe what permits Shesterkin to be so efficient is his skating. He’s highly effective but exact – a mix of attributes solely achieved by years of diligent coaching. Arriving early and sq. to the shooter lets Shesterkin learn the shot sooner than a lot of his contemporaries.

To me, that’s why the Rangers backstop so not often will get crushed by a clear shot. His ft are set and his eyes are locked on the stick blade early, and Shesterkin prefers to play at an affordable depth. He’s not overly aggressive. By staying between his posts and largely inside the blue paint, Shesterkin offers himself an opportunity on virtually each shot.

Within the first spherical towards the Pittsburgh Penguins, Shesterkin needed to discover a new degree of emotional involvement to match the depth of Stanley Cup playoff motion. The Penguins swarmed his crease. Contact occurred, and I believe it took just a few tough outings for Shesterkin to know the mentality essential to win video games within the postseason.

The second spherical noticed the very best model of Shesterkin. He posted a .949 save proportion whereas eliminating the Carolina Hurricanes in seven video games. That final half is necessary: Shesterkin has performed in – and received – two Recreation 7s to this point in the course of the 2021-22 Stanley Cup playoffs. That have is invaluable.

Within the convention ultimate towards the Lightning, Shesterkin will face a way more dynamic group than the Penguins or Hurricanes. Tampa Bay has loads of offensive weapons, however the problem of going through the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions didn’t faze the Rangers goaltender in the course of the common season. Shesterkin was 3-0 with one shutout and a .958 save proportion.

I consider there’s loads of inner motivation for Shesterkin. Each athlete needs to be the very best at what he does. That is the proper alternative for Shesterkin: a seven-game sequence towards Vasilevskiy, whom many really feel is the very best on the earth.

From a goaltending perspective, Shesterkin versus Vasilevskiy is a dream situation akin to Marc-Andre Fleury going up towards Carey Worth in final yr’s Stanley Cup playoffs — solely this time it’s with two netminders of their mid-20s. The convention ultimate is likely to be the start of a long-lasting rivalry.

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