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Insider

Which playoff goalie would experts pick for a Game 7 win?

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AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Henrik Lundqvist is the gold standard. At least he had been until the Lightning started lighting him up the last two games. But even as the Rangers struggle to tighten things up around him, he’d be the guy most people in hockey would want to start a Game 7 among the four remaining goalies.

There’s no debating that track record.

“Lundqvist has been the best goalie in the last 10 years,” said one Eastern Conference starting goalie.

But what about the other three goalies remaining: Chicago’s Corey Crawford, Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen and Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop? Which of those three would hockey people prefer?

“That’s a good question,” said former Blues goalie coach Corey Hirsch.

At some point, one of the other three goalies will emerge either as the Stanley Cup champion or the one going toe-to-toe against Lundqvist with a Cup on the line. They’ve all had their moments in the playoffs so far, but among those who know goalies best, which one would they hitch their wagon to moving forward?

“Crawford has won,” said the Eastern Conference goalie. “Bishop and Andersen have no real resume, but it’s the parity of goaltending right now in the NHL. You can have them step in and they’re not fazed by the situation. And teams don’t just have one goalie. They’re three deep. There are so many talented goalies out there, and there are only 60 spots in the NHL. You’re seeing the overflow.”

The difference among the other three at this point is small. In fact, Bishop and Crawford have the same save percentage (.925), although Bishop has started twice as many games as Crawford.

After Lundqvist, the three remaining goalies fell into three categories.


Most experienced

In evaluating the three goalies, there was always a quick concession. None of them can top Crawford’s experience, and that makes him stand out.

He’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s played in 65 postseason games. He has a career .921 save percentage in the postseason. No, he’s not always perfect, but there’s value in the guy who has been there before.

“Crawford has the most experience, but from a skill standpoint, forget the playoffs. He’s not nearly as skilled as the other two guys,” said an Eastern Conference goalie coach. “The other two guys are way more skilled than he is.”

Then, in explaining what makes Crawford’s experience so valuable, the coach described the arc of a playoff goalie. Often, he said, a goalie’s first playoff run is fueled by talent.

“They don’t know; they just play,” he said.

Then there’s a second phase that hits goalies' careers. They get into the playoffs and understand the magnitude of the situation. It adds even more pressure.

“They figure out what’s at stake, and they turned into what we’re seeing from Jimmy Howard or what Marc-Andre Fleury turned into,” he said. “They realized what they’re doing, and it has a negative effect on them.”

Then comes Phase 3.

“They get to a point where their experience makes all that go away, and the experience becomes a positive,” he said. “That’s where Crawford is.”


Most talented

Hirsch leaned toward Crawford simply because of the experience factor and just how big the mental side of goaltending is for success.

“Having said that, I think Andersen and Bishop are better goalies,” he said. And of the two, Bishop has a skill set that is completely distinctive. He’s 6-foot-7 and plays the puck with the skill of a defenseman.

“Bishop is No. 1 because of the fact he plays the puck so well. That helps out a lot now that you’re getting into the final two rounds,” Hirsch said. “He’s so big and athletic, and he’s getting better as a player. He’s maturing. He’s just hitting his prime.”

The big thing for Bishop was getting out of the first round. He looked shaky at times against the Red Wings but got better as the series progressed. After allowing three goals on 14 shots in Game 1 of that series, he shut down Detroit in the final two games, allowing just two goals on 55 shots.

“I like Bishop,” said a Western Conference goalie coach. “I do think the further you go, even though the stakes are higher, the more relaxed you get and your confidence is high. Once you get past the first round, it’s not a question of ‘Can this guy succeed in the playoffs?’ You can succeed. You’re writing your own story. That’s the thing with Bishop. What were the question marks? Can he win in the playoffs? He’s won two rounds now. He looks calm, focused and in control.”


Least tested

Andersen has done everything the Ducks have asked of him. He has started 11 playoff games and has won nine of them. That’s tough to argue against. He also has the highest save percentage (.933) of any starting goalie still playing.

Bishop might be the most massive of the goalies remaining, but the 6-foot-3 Andersen isn’t too far behind.

“He’s not much smaller,” said the goalie coach from the East. “He may not be as tall, but he’s thicker. That makes him wider. That’s a built-in advantage because I’ve never a seen a puck go through a guy’s belly button.”

Still, he’s now getting severely tested for the first time in the playoffs. He faced 56 shots in the Ducks' triple-overtime Game 2 in Anaheim, 17 percent of his total for the entire postseason.

Even with the marathon game, Andersen has played more than 200 minutes fewer than Bishop (946:02 compared with 728:07). He’s faced fewer shots than Lundqvist, Bishop, Braden Holtby and Carey Price.

That will all change as the series against Chicago advances, but he still needs to prove some things.

“For whatever reason, I still don’t trust him,” Hirsch said. “Some part of me doesn’t completely trust him. Although I can’t argue with what he’s done. No question, he’s good. He’s one of the upper goalies in the league. He’s just a guy; I can’t put my finger on it -- if he wins a Cup, he’ll prove he can do it.”

The fact that he’s been the unquestioned starter in Anaheim has helped his game. There’s no more competition with Jonas Hiller or any real threat coming from John Gibson.

Andersen is thriving as the established No. 1.

“There are two kinds of goalies. Kind No. 1 needs a goalie pushing them and kind No. 2 does way better when they know they’re going to play and they’re not afraid to make a mistake,” said one of the goalie coaches. “It looks like Andersen is way better when he knows he’s going to play.”