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Trading places: New goaltenders with pressure to perform next season

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The offseason has been like a giant game of musical chairs for goaltenders around the NHL. There are midseason acquisitions who will be asked to carry the mail from the beginning of the season like Craig Anderson in Ottawa and Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay. There were plenty of netminders like J.S. Giguere, Brian Elliott, Mathieu Garon, Brian Boucher, Peter Budaj, and Jeff Deslauriers who found new homes in free agency that are expected to provide adequate back-up goaltending when the starters needs a break. Even Ondrej Pavelec will be trying to impress a new city and fanbase and he’s on the same team. Thank you True North.

Most importantly, there are teams who have handed the keys to the net to newcomers. Sure, there were teams that strengthened their goaltending depth, but there are a few teams that are depending on new goaltenders to carry them to success on a nightly basis next season. Their new teams’ success heavily depends on their ability to adjust to a new city, new fans, new system, and increased expectations.

Each goaltender faces a different set of circumstances that will contribute to the pressure in their new locales. Maybe the team expects to step up and be a playoff contender. Maybe their new team paid a king’s ransom to acquire them in the offseason. Maybe their new team expects the Stanley Cup and nothing less. Each will walk into a different situation—but they all face demands to succeed.

Here are five of the goaltenders who face the most pressure to perform for their new teams next season.

Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia Flyers): Any discussion regarding pressure for goaltenders begins in Philadelphia with Ilya Bryzgalov. By signing the 31-year goaltender to a 9-year, $51 million deal (and other smaller decisions), the team was forced to part ways with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and even Kris Versteeg. The team that went to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and was the second best team in the Eastern Conference last season basically blew up the team to build around their new goaltender. The result: the Flyers have more new faces than Bobby Knight in a postgame press conference and there’s great anticipation for Bryzgalov between the pipes next season.

“I want to be the guy who can carry this team. I don’t know what else to say. I want to help this team win the Stanley Cup because people in Philadelphia and the organization have waited long enough.”

At least he understands the expectations in Philly. In Phoenix, a great regular season and a playoff appearance were enough for to keep most fans happy. Next season, fans will expect a great regular season, a playoff berth, and much more.

Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche): Varlamov has a completely different set of expectations than Bryzgalov—yet still faces plenty of pressure. When the Avalanche gave up both a first and second round pick for the talented former 1st round pick, they loudly stated that they expected him to be the goaltender of the future for their rebuilding team. He’ll need to prove to the fans that he was worth the huge price GM Greg Sherman paid for him at July 1st or the jokes will be coming faster than you can say Phil Kessel. If Varlamov is only an average goaltender and the Avs struggle again next season, the Avalanche could have traded away one of the top picks of next year’s draft. It’ll be Varlamov’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Tomas Vokoun (Washington Capitals): The Washington Capitals have been the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference over the last two seasons—including a Presidents’ Trophy as best regular season team in the NHL. Yet in both years, the team fell apart in the postseason and only managed one series win combined. One of the big question marks surrounding the team (rightfully or wrongly) has been the absence of a veteran goaltender that could carry the Caps deep into the playoffs. Jose Theodore played all of two playoff games in 2008-09 and the rest have been started by guys under the age of 23. When Vokoun fell into Washington’s lap on July 2, he wasn’t expressly given the starting job—but it certainly sounds like it’s his to lose. Over the majority of his career in Nashville and Florida, Vokoun has proven that he’s one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL. If he can perform at the highest level next season with the Caps, everyone will know his name.

Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes): Smith may have the most thankless job ahead of him this season. One of the least known people on this list, he’ll be faced with the challenge of replacing one of the best goaltenders over the last two years (Bryzgalov) on a team that has made the playoffs in consecutive years. The consensus opinion is that without elite goaltending by Bryzgalov, Phoenix would have struggled to make the playoffs in either season. This year, fans will find out exactly how important he was to the team—and if Smith is able to fill the large void left by the new Flyers goaltender. Smith knows people will measure him against his predecessor:

“The main thing is I know I’m capable of playing really well. I know ‘Bryz’ did some outstanding things in Phoenix and has had a great career so far and will probably continue to do so in Philly, but I’m not going there with the expectation of surpassing him… I’m just going to go there and take it one game at a time, play up to my capability, and if I do that, good things are going to happen for me.”

Sports cliché’s aside, Smith has the perfect outlook going into his new gig. He’ll just have to go into Phoenix and take advantage of his opportunity as the team’s starter. If Smith can recapture the spark that intrigued the Lightning enough to include him in the Brad Richards trade, the Coyotes may have a guy who could help ease the pain of losing their franchise goaltender.

Jose Theodore (Florida Panthers): The Florida Panthers have certainly made a splash this offseason as Dale Tallon has worked to transform the team from one with potential and prospects to a team with plenty of proven NHL players. As part of his rebuilding plan, he hoped to re-sign Tomas Vokoun to go with all of the new faces. When it was apparent that Vokoun was looking for more money than the Panthers were willing to offer, he quickly moved to Plan B and picked up free agent Jose Theodore. Last season, Theodore had a .916 save percentage and 2.71 goals against average for a poor Minnesota Wild team; this year, he’ll fight with Scott Clemmensen for the starter’s role. The team went out and made plenty of acquisitions this year and expects to fight for the playoffs—but if the goaltending falls apart, there’s no way their team will be able to take the next step from cellar-dweller to playoff team. Theodore’s performance will have a lot to do with the Panthers’ success next season.

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.