Conference finals highlight rise of European goaltending

niemi5.jpgOne of the lingering lessons of the Olympics (for me, anyway) was how far European/non-North American goaltending has come in the last four years. Just look at the great tournament Jonas Hiller had for the Swiss national team. That trend is definitely continuing in the NHL playoffs as three of the four conference finalists feature a goalie born and trained outside of Canada.

Antti Niemi is the longest-surviving Finn now that Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins somehow managed to get reverse-swept. Evgeni Nabokov is a native of Kazakhstan and played for Team Russia. Jaroslav Halak provided steady netminding for Slovakia before he became a household name in Montreal.

Here’s more from the International Ice Hockey Federation.

But it’s interesting to note that despite Canada’s historic dominance between NHL pipes, only one of the teams that has advanced has a Canadian backup: Montreal, with Carey Price.

Supporting Nabokov is Germany’s Thomas Greiss, while Niemi is backed up by France’s Cristobal Huet. With the USA’s Brian Boucher having suffered a sprained knee, the Philadelphia Flyers are starting Canada’s Michael Leighton, with Sweden’s Johan Backlund serving as the backup.

Overall, it is less a signal that Canada’s quality of netminding has dropped off than that the rest of the world is steadily catching up, year by year.

Much like US basketball, the world is catching up to Canada on the ice but that closing gap is most evident between the pipes.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner)

Scroll Down For:

    Oshie’s hat trick lets Caps just barely squeak by Penguins in OT

    16 Comments

    What a start.

    This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.

    This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.

    What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:

    This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.

    There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.

    Twice:

    If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.

    NOTES:

    Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.

    — Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.

    — Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.

    — This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.

    — Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.

    Video: Wilson delivers late, knee-on-knee hit to Sheary

    Wilson hit
    26 Comments

    Tom Wilson has already found himself in a controversy for delivering a late, knee-on-knee hit to Penguins forward Conor Sheary in the third period of Game 1 Thursday night.

    You can see that incident below:

    Wilson spent two minutes in the sin bin earlier in the contest for crosschecking Evgeni Malkin, but there was no penalty on this play.

    Fortunately Conor Sheary was able to stay in the game. The question now is if Wilson’s actions will lead to him being suspended prior to Game 2.

    This isn’t Wilson’s first brush with controversy. He delivered a big hit to Brayden Schenn in 2013, but Wilson wasn’t suspended for that incident. Lubomir Visnovsky’s final campaign was cut short due to a check by Wilson that angered the New York Islanders. More recently, Nikita Zadorov was concussed by a crushing blow from the Capitals forward.

    In 231 career regular season games, Wilson has 50 points and 486 penalty minutes.

    Related: Wilson says ‘I’ve never been a dirty hitter’ after teams voice complaints

    Video: Penguins, Caps combine for three goals in 90 seconds

    Oshie goal
    4 Comments

    For the first 30 minutes of Game 1 between Pittsburgh and Washington it looked like goaltenders Matt Murray and Braden Holtby might outshine these star-studded offenses. Then the floodgates opened up, if only for a moment.

    Washington already had a 1-0 lead going into the second frame courtesy of Andre Burakovsky‘s first marker of the 2016 playoffs, but Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals within the span of 57 seconds midway through the second period to tilt the scale in Pittsburgh’s favor. That lead didn’t last for long though as Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got a breakaway opportunity and took full advantage of it.

    In total, there were three goals scored in the span of just 90 seconds and you can see all of them below:

    After that sequence, the 2-2 tie held for the remainder of the frame. However, Oshie was able to reassert Washington’s edge just 3:23 minutes into the third period.

    Video: Beagle gets stick stuck in visor

    Beagle
    5 Comments

    Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.

    Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below: