Importance of Goaltending in the Playoffs
When it comes to playoff hockey, goaltending can often mean the difference between winning and losing. Take a glance down the list of Stanley Cup-winning teams and you’ll see a common denominator in a goalie putting up great numbers on his team’s way to victory; guys like Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas over the past three years and all-time greats like Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy since the turn of the millennium.
“Obviously, goalie is a big part of the game,” Thunder goaltender Brian Foster said. “If you have a goalie that’s playing well I think everyone in front of you has more confidence, they know you’re going to come up with the save. It gives the forwards more confidence knowing they may not have to score five goals a night, but then when they don’t have that pressure I think it’s easier for them to play well.”
“If you know what you’re going to get from your goaltender night-in and night-out it’s just something you don’t even have to worry about,” Thunder back-up Parker Milner said. “You can kind of play more free I imagine if you’re a player. You’re not trying to make mistakes, but if mistakes happen you know that guy is going to bail you out.”
That has been something very evident in this series, as Foster and his Bakersfield counterpart Laurent Brossoit have put on a show for fans in terms of great puck-stopping ability. But how do goaltenders flip that switch when it comes time for the playoffs and get into a groove?
“I think most of them thrive on playing and getting multiple starts in a row,” head coach Rich Kromm said. “It helps them create a rhythm and maintain it.”
Often times, teams will turn to one goaltender and use him for the majority of, if not all, the games in the playoffs. This is different from the regular season when teams use tandems to help keep goalies from getting worn out over the course of a long season, but also to help more netminders improve their game, something especially important in the ECHL.
“I think every team is unique,” Kromm said. “If you feel like you’ve got two guys who are a real good tandem that like to share the load, then there’s nothing wrong with alternating both guys. I guess the common trend in thinking is you get a hot goalie and you just ride him. You’ve seen it happen over and over again where one goaltender gets really, really hot and gets on a run, and the team can just rely on him and win games that maybe they don’t deserve to win.”
Take this comparison between ECHL goaltending statistics in the regular season and playoffs. Over a 72 game season, only one goaltender, Wheeling’s Mike Condon, had a save percentage about .930. So far in the playoffs, 15 goaltenders have posted a .930 mark or better. Foster believes that another reason behind goaltender’s success comes from the playoff atmosphere. As the importance of each game rises, the players in front of the goalie step their game up.
“They know that every game they have to do anything it takes,” Foster said. “Everyone is contributing and everyone is playing hard defensively. The goalies’ numbers go up in playoffs I think because the “D” are playing harder, clearing those rebounds. You don’t have to make as many big saves. Everyone is just working harder to help out.”
A goaltender can help himself by making saves, perhaps on shots they should not be able to stop as often as they do. It is something that has been displayed time and time again by Foster in this postseason, something he contributes to getting in the “zone.”
“You know when you’re having a good game and it gives you confidence, everything just seems so much easier,” Foster said. “It seems like the pucks are bigger and the shots seem like they’re coming slower. When you’re in the zone like that it feels like you can stop anything.”