Considering that this was the highest scoring NHL season in a generation, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the goaltending has been a complicating factor early in the postseason.
No matter what has happened, though, the odds of a goaltender winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs can not be ignored because goaltenders have historically had a monstrous effect in the postseason.
In the history of an award, which has been handed out 56 times, it has gone to a goaltender 17 times, so a little more than 30%. Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning won the award last season, the first time that a goaltender had won it since 2011-2012 when Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings took home the award.
When it comes to deciding the Conn Smythe Trophy, the players that are on the heavily favored teams are the most likely winners. However, that comes with its own challenges because the heavily favored teams also have other elite players that are likely to contend for the Conn Smythe.
But, when it comes to performance early on, the numbers at Natural Stat Trick indicate that the Dallas Stars Jake Oettinger, the Calgary Flames' Jacob Markstrom, the Edmonton Oilers' Mike Smith, and the Carolina Hurricanes' Antti Raanta are among the leaders in goals saved above expected.
Here are some of the more interesting goalies as Conn Smythe contenders in this year’s postseason.
The Flames have a bona fide shot to win the Stanley Cup and their trouble scoring goals early in the postseason does give Markstrom a chance to win the Conn Smythe, but it could be asking a lot for the Flames to get there without more than seven goals in four games.
Even though he missed Game 4 of his team's sweep against the Nashville Predators, Kuemper does figure to have the starting job for the Avalanche through the Stanley Cup Final. The bigger issue for him winning the Conn Smythe is that it will be incredibly difficult for the Avalanche to win if Nathan MacKinnon or Cale Makar are not playing to their standard superstar levels.
A goaltender without a history of any kind of postseason success, Bobrovsky does have the advantage of playing for a Florida Panthers team that had the best record in the National Hockey League this season. Like Kuemper, though, Bobrovsky will face stiff competition from teammates Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad.
The Toronto Maple Leafs took a 3-2 series lead against the Lightning Tuesday, and Campbell surely will have to play well for the Maple Leafs to at least reach the Stanley Cup Final. Can he beat out the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander?
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Injured late in the regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes’ starting goaltender has yet to play in the postseason, with Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov filling in. If the Hurricanes do go on a run to the Cup Final, though, and Andersen is healthy enough to play the final three rounds, maybe he would have a chance.
The last time a goaltender won the Conn Smythe Trophy in back-to-back seasons was Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974 and 1975, and the Lightning are down 3-2 in their first-round series against Toronto. Maybe not the most likely outcome, but Vasilevskiy has the pedigree that would give him a chance to win again if the Lightning rally to win their third straight title.
After the Blues fell behind the Minnesota Wild two games to one in their first-round series, with Ville Husso in net for St. Louis, Binnington returned to the crease and has performed well in a couple of wins. Binnington was excellent in St. Louis’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup, so maybe he has a chance if the Blues make a Cup run this season.
The best goaltender in the league during the regular season, the New York Rangers netminder has an uphill climb because the Rangers are down three games to one against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Shesterkin was great in the first two games of the series, but the Penguins seemed to have found their range in the next two.
The veteran goaltender was brought in to provide stability for the Wild but now they are down 3-2 against St. Louis and if the Wild somehow rally and go on a run to the Stanley Cup, it would be hard to imagine that Fleury is going to come in ahead of Wild star left winger Kirill Kaprizov, who already has seven goals in five games.
It is a wonderful story that the Penguins’ No. 3 goaltender has stepped in and lifted them to a series lead. But even if Pittsburgh goes all the way, Tristan Jarry should have a chance to return to the crease at some point.
Based on performance at this point, Oettinger should be a Conn Smythe favorite, but it seems so unlikely that the Dallas Stars are going to go all the way to the Stanley Cup, that Oettinger remains a long shot, based on more on the team than his own individual performance.
Quick will likely have to play a big part if the Kings are going to go far in these playoffs. But he has a .887 save percentage through five games against Edmonton, so he is not the difference maker early.
When the playoffs started, the Washington Capitals went with Vitek Vanecek in goal, but they have since turned to Samsonov, who has stopped 75 of 79 shots. If the Capitals upset Florida and ultimately go deep, maybe Samsonov is one of the key pieces to get there.