Talbot and Kahkonen lead top NHL goaltending tandems

The job of the NHL goalie is probably one of the hardest.

Braden Holtby said it himself last year, joking with a smile on his face after a long practice.

“It’s the worst position in sports,” he grinned.

With the shortened 2020-21 campaign coming down to the wire as divisional opponents become more familiar with one another, having more than one goalie to lean on isn’t the worst option. Here are some of the league’s top 1A/1B netminding duos.

Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, Minnesota Wild

Kirill Kaprizov is perhaps the Wild’s biggest headline this season, but it’s hard to overlook their tandem in net. Veteran Cam Talbot and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen have somewhat quietly become a powerhouse between the pipes.

Before last year, Talbot struggled for a few years after leaving the Rangers for Edmonton. However, the 33-year-old is seeing a resurgence. He’s having the best season of his career since his 36-game campaign with the Rangers in 2014-15. Through 16 starts, he’s gone 9-5-1 with a .928 save percentage (fourth in NHL among goalies with at least 10GP) and 2.26 GAA.

“It doesn’t surprise us anymore,” head coach Dean Evason told reporters in regards to Talbot’s outstanding performance and top-notch saves. “It honestly doesn’t. It’s like, ‘Okay, Cam saved our bacon again.'”

Rookie Kaapo Kahkonen is also making his presence known in net. Through 18 games, the 24-year-old is 12-6-0 with a 2.34 GAA and .920 SV% (fourth among rookies). Kahkonen has also taken his game a step further and is entering the Calder conversation. He’s a calm and collected netminder beyond his years, and he also benefits from stellar lateral movement and agility that helps him control the game.

Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers

Another solid 1A/1B tandem is making all the difference in net as Florida defies expectations. The Panthers have gone from a hinge team to one of the top contenders in the Central Division, thanks to strong play up and down Joel Quenneville’s lineup.

Bobrovsky has started the most games for FLA this season, making 20 appearances in net overall. The former Vezina winner is 13-5-2 with a .903 save percentage and 2.91 GAA and can still be trusted to come up big in goal.

It’s Driedger’s play, though, that’s stood out more and has given the Cats the confidence to rely on two netminders. The 26-year-old played in just 12 games for Florida last season but has taken the next step to prove he can be a full-time NHL goalie — and even a starter. He’s 9-4-2 through 15 games this season and boasts a remarkable .927 save percentage and 2.19 GAA. Driedger also doesn’t shy away from highlight-reel plays and is excellent with the paddle, while also showing off excellent lateral movement and a great glove hand.

[MORE: Panthers should resist urge to move Driedger at deadline]

Alex Nedeljkovic, James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

It’s currently Three’s Company in the Canes’ crease, and that’s more than okay with Carolina. Mrazek’s return from a broken thumb, which held him out for 31 games, is a huge boost to an already solid netminding situation. Mrazek’s posted three shutouts through his five starts this season, and despite a small sample size, his .968 save percentage and .74 GAA does speak to his ability between the pipes. He’s been great at handling rebounds and playing a shutdown game, and he’s not afraid to come up with major saves to boot.

Still, it’s Nedeljkovic that’s taken the Hurricanes by storm (no pun intended). The rookie has been dominant between the pipes with an 8-4-2 record, 2.12 GAA and .924 save percentage through 14 games. Not only are his numbers some of the best among the NHL’s freshman class, but he’s also one of the league’s top standouts so far. He has incredible athleticism and plays a quick game, and he’s showing progress when it comes to working on his positioning.

In Mrazek’s place, Reimer’s been as solid as he can be, going 14-4-2 with a .905 SV%. He’s been able to come up big from time to time and steal key wins for a Carolina team that’s taking over the Central Division.

[MORE: Q&A: Nedeljkovic discusses journey to NHL, key to goalie goals]

Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders

The Isles continue to make a strong push for first in the East, and they can credit a lot of their success to their Russian duo in goal.

Varlamov has been outstanding since coming to the Island, putting up a .914 save percentage in 45 games last season. This year, he’s continued that level of success with a 15-7-3 record, 2.26 GAA and .916 SV% through 25 games. He has a great glove hand and moves well laterally, and his fast reflexes and decision-making makes him a solid netminder and is helping him rise to new heights.

“He’s endeared himself to everybody with his personality and play,” bench boss Barry Trotz said of the 32-year-old last season.

In addition to their veteran, New York also has a solid second option in freshman Ilya Sorokin. His highly-anticipated transition to the NHL has been smooth so far, and he’s living up to the hype as he continues to grow his game and show flashes of promise. He’s 9-3-1 through 13 games, boasting a 2.21 GAA (third among rookies) and .914 save percentage (seventh among rookies).

As the Islanders look to make another deep run following their journey to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they at least know they’re covered in the crease.

Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars

After an impressive run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, Dallas is currently struggling to climb in the Central. However, their goaltending is giving them a boost and the opportunity to steal wins night in and night out.

Oettinger is among the biggest narratives to follow for the Stars, going 6-4-6 with a .918 save percentage (T-5 among rookies) and 2.24 GAA. The 22-year-old has great skill and size in the crease and is a quick learner that’s been able to take on major responsibility.

Khudobin hasn’t been in top form this season, going 7-9-4 with a 2.48 GAA and .908 save percentage, but he’s been able to do what he can to keep the Stars in it. “Dobby” continues to shine with his personality, but he’s still showing flashes of the greatness that helped lead his team to new heights in 2020.

Darcy Kuemper, Antti Raanta and Adin Hill, Arizona Coyotes

Like Carolina, the Coyotes also benefit from having three netminders, and that insurance will go a long way as they battle in a tough West Division. The team has not only relied on Kuemper, who is coming off a stellar campaign last season that helped Arizona to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but also Raanta and Hill.

Kuemper’s taken his game to the next level over the last couple of seasons and continues to prove his worth in net. Through 18 starts, he’s 7-7-2 with a .914 save percentage and 2.41 GAA. The 6-5 netminder has tremendous size and ability and plays the butterfly position to a tee. He benefits from a terrific glove hand and strong lateral movement. Not only that, he handles the puck well and has great reaction time to boot.

Raanta’s also been strong with a .913 save percentage through 11 games. He’s made some unorthodox saves over the course of the season and can handle a heavier workload with a calm demeanor. The same can be said for Hill, who’s been able to come in and relieve some of the pressure for Arizona with a .909 save percentage combined with promising potential and a versatile skill set.

The Yotes defense will have to improve in front of the crease as both netminders work to keep Arizona in the hunt, and they will also be the key to the team making a deep run if they in fact do qualify for the postseason.

[MORE: Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals

The Caps faced a rather unexpected situation in net this season. The plan was for Ilya Samsonov to take the reigns, with newly-signed goaltender Henrik Lundqvist taking on more of a backup and mentorship role while also getting playing time. However, things took a turn after a heart condition held out Lundqvist for the entire season. That’s when Vitek Vanecek got the unexpected call to rise to the occasion – and he hasn’t disappointed.

Through 23 games, Vanecek leads all rookies with wins (15) and ranks in the top-10 with a .907 save percentage and 2.71 GAA. It was a long journey from the AHL to the highest level, and he’s arguably among the top reasons the Capitals are the top team in the East. The Czech netminder shows off quickness in the crease and a terrific glove-hand, and his ten-bell saves and performance has forced the Caps to rely on a two-goalie system.

“[Vanecek’s] given us the opportunity to win hockey games from the start of the year… he’s given us a chance,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.

While Samsonov’s 2.87 GAA and .897 SV% appear lackluster, it doesn’t speak to the quality of his play in net since returning from a bout with COVID that had him struggling to walk and breathe. His stellar lateral movement and positioning have helped keep Washington in a number of games, and he’s lost just two games in regulation this season.

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    Dellandrea scores twice in 3rd, Stars stay alive with 4-2 victory over Golden Knights

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference Final.

    Ty Dellandrea‘s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Florida Panthers.

    “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room. It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”

    The Stars escaped elimination for the second game in a row and head to Dallas for Game 6 down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.

    And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.

    “I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”

    The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.

    “Drop the puck,” he said.

    DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final and letting both opportunities slip away.

    “I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”

    Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.

    “We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”

    Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.

    Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.

    Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.

    Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.

    “There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”

    The teams traded goals in the first two periods.

    Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.

    Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.

    Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.

    Sabres sign Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnston to 2-year rookie contract

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres ended a lengthy wait by signing Ryan Johnston to a two-year, entry level contract more than a month after the defenseman completed his senior college season at Minnesota.

    Johnston will report immediately to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, whose best-of-seven Eastern Conference final playoff series against Hershey is tied at 1.

    From Southern California, Johnston is listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds and was selected 31st in 2019 draft.

    His puck-moving skills fit Buffalo’s style of play, Johnston finished his college career with nine goals and 59 points in 143 career games, including four goals and 18 points in 40 games this year. He reached the NCAA’s Frozen Four in each of his final two seasons, with the Gophers losing in the semifinals last year, followed by a 3-2 overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the championship game last month.

    He also had a goal and three assists in seven games representing the U.S. team that won gold at the 2021 world junior championships.

    Johnston, who turns 22 in July, had the option to wait until August when he would’ve become an unrestricted free agent and eligible to sign with any team. Because Johnston was first-round pick, the Sabres would’ve been compensated with a 2024 second-round selection had he signed elsewhere.

    Both sides are banking on the player’s age and college experience to enable Johnston to make the jump to the NHL within the next two seasons. The Sabres will still control Johnston’s rights as a restricted free agent once his entry-level contract expires.

    Joe Pavelski scores on OT power play, Stars beat Golden Knights 3-2 to avoid West sweep

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    Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

    DALLAS — Joe Pavelski admits that he probably appreciates the big playoff goals more the later he gets in his career. But they all still feel just as good, and his latest kept the season alive for the Dallas Stars.

    “Just really living in the moment,” Pavelski said. “A tremendous feeling for sure, and glad we could play another game, and go from there and try to extend it.”

    The 38-year-old Pavelski scored on a power play at 3:18 of overtime – a one-timer from the middle of the left circle to the far post – and the Stars avoided a sweep in the Western Conference Final with a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Jason Robertson scored twice for his first career multigoal playoff game for Dallas, which played without suspended captain Jamie Benn.

    “We’re looking for goals and that’s kind of my responsibility I put on myself,” Robertson said. “I know these playoffs have been tough. … I was able to get the bounces that we needed tonight.”

    Jake Oettinger had 37 saves, two nights after the 24-year-old Stars goalie was pulled 7:10 into Game 3 after allowing three goals on five shots.

    The Stars had the man advantage in overtime after Brayden McNabb‘s high-sticking penalty on Ty Dellandrea. Fifty seconds into the power play, Pavelski scored on a pass from Miro Heiskanen. They won for the first time in their five OT games this postseason – Vegas won the first two games of this series past regulation.

    It was only the second Vegas penalty of the game, both high-sticking calls against McNabb. His penalty on Pavelski late in the first period set up the power play when Robertson scored his first goal with some nifty stickwork.

    Pavelski, in his 15th NHL season and still looking for his first Stanley Cup, scored his ninth goal in 12 games this postseason, but his first in five games. He has 73 career postseason goals – the most for U.S.-born players and the most among all active players.

    “He’s ageless. … I’ve seen that movie over and over again. Never gets old,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He lives for those moments and he wants to be in those situations. Always has, and delivers almost every time.”

    Benn was suspended two games by the NHL on Wednesday for his cross-check with his stick landing near the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in the first two minutes of Game 3 on Tuesday night. Benn also will miss Game 5 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

    William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Vegas. Adin Hill had his five-game winning streak snapped. He made 39 saves, including a game-saver with his extended left leg without about two minutes left in regulation on rookie Fredrik Olofsson’s swiping try in his first career playoff game.

    “Our effort wasn’t good enough. Closing a series is probably the hardest game in a series, right, so it just wasn’t good enough from our group,” Marchessault said. “It was still a one-goal game in overtime. It was right there for us.”

    Karlsson and Marchessault are among six of the original Vegas players still on the team from the inaugural 2017-18 season that ended with the Knights playing for the Stanley Cup, though they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals after winning the first game.

    Vegas missed a chance to complete a sweep, a night after the Florida Panthers finished off a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Vegas took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period when Marchessault, after whacking his stick on the back of Ryan Suter in front of the net, scored on a pass between the Stars defenseman’s legs from McNabb, another original Golden Knight.

    Robertson’s tying goal late in that period came on a ricochet off the back board just seconds after he had another shot hit the post. That was the fourth goal of this series, and sixth in the playoffs, after this regular season becoming the first Dallas player with a 100-point season.

    On his first goal late in the first that tied it 1-1, Robertson deflected Heiskanen’s shot from just inside the blue line up into the air. As Hill was trying to secure the puck into his glove, Robertson knocked it free and then reached around and swiped the puck into the net with his stick parallel to the ice.

    With former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and wrestling great Ric Flair both in the building wearing Stars jerseys Dallas was avoided being swept in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 against St. Louis in the second round. This was the Stars’ 21st playoff series since then.

    The Golden Knights scored first again – though not like those three quick goals in Game 3 that led to the earliest exit ever for Oettinger.

    Karlsson pushed the puck up and skated to the front of the net after passing to Nicolas Roy, whose pass through traffic went off a Dallas stick before Reilly Smith got it just inside the right circle and took a shot. Karlsson’s deflection past Oettinger only 4:17 into the game was his eighth goal this postseason.

    “There were a lot of rush chances,” said Smith, also with Vegas since the beginning. “I don’t think we did a good enough job of making it difficult on them. So we get another opportunity in two days.”

    Tkachuk sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Final, after topping Hurricanes 4-3 for sweep

    panthers stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk delivered for Florida, again. Sergei Bobrovsky denied Carolina, again.

    The wait is over: After 27 years, the Florida Panthers – a hockey punchline no more – are again going to play for the game’s grandest prize.

    Tkachuk got his second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds left, lifting the Panthers past the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping the Eastern Conference final.

    The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

    “This was pure joy,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

    Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap his stellar series – four games, four one-goal wins, three of them basically in sudden death, a .966 save percentage after stopping 174 of the 180 shots he faced. The first two wins were in overtime, and this one may as well have been.

    The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. They were the No. 8 seed, the last team in, the longest of long shots – which is consistent with their history, after not winning a single playoff series in 26 years, a drought that ended last season.

    And now, beasts of the East. Tkachuk arrived last summer saying he wanted to bring Florida a Cup. He’s four wins away.

    “It’s amazing,” Bobrovsky said. “We showed the resilience … and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.”

    NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings was the one tasked with presenting the Prince of Wales Trophy. After some photos, Aleksander Barkov – the captain who had two assists, one of them on the game-winner – grabbed it, and skated it away. Some teams touch it. Some don’t. A few of the Panthers did, but Barkov didn’t pass it around.

    That’ll wait for the big prize.

    “It’s hard to explain right now. Everything just happened so quick,” Barkov said. “It means a lot. It definitely does. … It hasn’t been easy and nobody said it’s going to be easy.”

    Added Tkachuk: “We earned that thing, and definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it.”

    Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.

    Jordan Staal – his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers – took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power-play that Tkachuk finished off after getting into the slot and beating Frederik Andersen to set off a wild celebration.

    “Eastern Conference champions,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s really cool. No doubt about it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have our eyes on something different.”

    Toy rats – the Panthers’ tradition, a nod to the unwanted locker room guests from Florida’s old arena in 1996 – sailed down from the stands, and the goal needed to survive an official review. But the rats were picked up, the goal was deemed good, and 27 years of waiting was officially over 4.9 seconds later.

    Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists. Andersen stopped 21 shots.

    “Everyone’s going to say, ‘You got swept.’ That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I watched the game. I’m there. I’m cutting the games. We’re in the game. We didn’t lose four games. We got beat, but we were right there. This could have went the other way. It could have been four games the other way.”

    That wasn’t sour grapes. He was right. A bounce here, a bounce there, a Bobrovsky not here, a Bobrovsky not there, and this series could have gone much differently.

    But Bob was his best. Tkachuk was clutch, over and over. And Florida is as close to a Cup as it has ever been; the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.

    Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready to a clincher.

    Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina – a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season – made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.

    Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and then Tkachuk finished it off – getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.

    “It’s been unbelievable since July since I got here,” Tkachuk said. “And hopefully we can cap off this amazing year.”


    Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced earlier Wednesday as a finalist for NHL GM of the year. … Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 points in the playoffs – extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. … Slavin was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was “an upper-body injury.” Slavin wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. … Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel – who has also been a regular at Miami Heat games during their playoff run this spring – banged the drum before the game. When done, without a mic to drop, he simply dropped the mallet instead.


    Tkachuk’s goal midway through the opening period put Florida up 2-0 – and marked the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every bit of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all the overtimes) of the series.