A quick look at some of the most intriguing netminding scenarios for the Stanley Cup playoffs:
Fleury’s health, Murray’s health
Marc-Andre Fleury missed the end of Pittsburgh’s regular season with a concussion.
His backup, Matt Murray, was knocked out of the final game following a collision with Philly’s Brayden Schenn.
This, of course, is not how the Pens wanted to punctuate an otherwise terrific ending to the year. Third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff was forced to finish off the Flyers game — a 3-1 loss, snapping an eight-game winning streak — and while Fleury did return to practice on Monday, it’s unclear if he’ll be ready when the Pens open their series against the Rangers on Wednesday.
While his playoff performances have been erratic in recent years, Fleury is still incredibly battle tested — of all active NHL netminders, he sits second in wins (53) to Henrik Lundqvist.
As such, the Pens are definitely hoping he’s healthy, especially since Murray is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Allen vs. Elliott
In what’s become an annual rite of passage in St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock was forced to choose a Game 1 playoff starter — it’ll be Brian Elliott facing Chicago, getting the nod over the previously-injured-but-now-100-percent-healthy Jake Allen.
But, in what’s also become a rite of passage for the Blues, things could change.
In their previous four playoff appearances, the Blues have had four different starting goalies: Elliott, Allen, Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak. It’s been something of a revolving door, though Elliott has remained the constant.
Last year, Hitchcock started Allen over Elliott in St. Louis’ opening-round series against the Wild (even though, a month earlier, Hitch said Elliott would be the guy). The decision came under scrutiny after Allen looked shaky over the final two games of the series, and got hooked in the decisive Game 6.
The problem for St. Louis doesn’t lie with who’s named the starter, though. It’s what happens afterward. Given the all the mind changing, it’s tough for the No. 1 to not constantly be looking over his shoulder.
What will Boudreau do?
For Game 1 versus Nashville, John Gibson looks to be the Anaheim starter.
But, much like in St. Louis, things can change.
Back in March, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau might employ a playoff goalie rotation between Frederik Andersen and Gibson.
Andersen was the guy for Anaheim last spring, playing every minute of every game en route to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. Yes, his play in that Conference Final was spotty — he gave up 18 goals over the final four games versus Chicago, and finished the series with a .901 save percentage — but that experience could prove invaluable.
There’s little doubt Gibson is the club’s goalie of the future, but he’s still just 22 years old and doesn’t have a huge postseason resume. Boudreau went to him during the ’14 playoffs for a brief spell, four games all told, and Anaheim was bounced in the second round by L.A.
Crease conundrums are nothing new in Anaheim, of course.
During that ’14 run in which Gibson made his postseason debut, Boudreau started three different goalies — Andersen, Gibson and Jonas Hiller — which proved to be an awkward situation in the blue paint.
Crease conundrums are nothing new for Boudreau, either.
His penchant for flip-flopping predates his time with the Ducks. In Washington, he yanked Jose Theodore in favor of Semyon Varlamov during the 2009 playoffs; a year later, after vowing “there is no short leash” for Theodore, Boudreau yanked him in favor of Varlamov.
What will BB do this time around?
In Chicago, there’s some concern about the health of Corey Crawford. The two-time Stanley Cup champ returned from a three-week absence — believed to be a head injury — to play in Saturday’s season finale, a sloppy 5-4 OT loss to Columbus in which Crawford allowed five goals on 25 shots.
Which begged the question: Is Crawford ready for the playoffs?
Head coach Joel Quenneville says yes.
Despite that assertion, Crawford will be one to watch. Do remember that, last year, he was hooked and briefly replaced by Scott Darling in the opening round against Nashville.
Of course, Crawford then reclaimed the No. 1 gig in that same series, and went on to backstop the ‘Hawks to the title.
Howard vs. Mrazek
Last year, Petr Mrazek was named starter for Detroit’s opening-round playoff series against Tampa Bay.
Head coach Jeff Blashill wasn’t confirming anything on Monday, but all signs pointed to Jimmy Howard:
This isn’t a huge surprise, given Howard was the man for Detroit down the stretch, starting the final seven games.
But one has to think the door is open for Mrazek. Howard did close out the year with consecutive losses, and Mrazek’s big coming out party happened against the Bolts last year, when he finished the series with a .925 save percentage.
Bonus 6th drama: Dallas!
This one is still TBD, as Stars head coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t decided between Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi. From the Dallas Morning-News:
On if he’s decided yet on a starting goalie for Game 1
“I like the way both our goalies have played. Right now I don’t have a bad decision. There’s not a wrong decision, but these guys have both played well and they’ve both played well down the stretch. There’s probably a chance both guys will play.”
On if he’ll name a starting goalie prior to Game 1
Neither goalie has been great this year, but Niemi could get the nod based solely on postseason experience. He has a Stanley Cup and over 60 games on his resume, while Lehtonen has never been out of the first round and has just eight playoff games to his credit.