Odd Man Rush: 5 goaltenders to watch at playoff time

1:28 PM, Apr 12, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Excellent goaltending is the backbone of any team's championship run. Chances are that if you're holding Lord Stanley's Cup at season's end, it was the man between the pipes who played a big part in getting you there.

Each of the last two Conn Smythe Trophy winners as playoff MVP went to goaltenders -- the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins -- and four of the previous nine winners were also netminders.

Another interesting fact: Of the five players to be named playoff MVP who were on the losing team in the Finals, four were goaltenders.

With the start of the NHL playoffs just over two weeks away, here are five goaltenders to keep an eye on when the chase for the Cup begins.

TUUKKA RASK, BOSTON BRUINS

Thomas was excellent in leading the Bruins to a championship in 2011, going 16-9 with a 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage. Two of his four shutouts in that postseason came in the Stanley Cup Finals versus the Vancouver Canucks, including a 37-save effort in Game 7 to win a 4-0 decision.

But Thomas decided to sit out the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and his rights were traded to the New York Islanders in February. That left Tuukka Rask as the man charged with leading the Bruins in the quest for another title and he has been solid in doing so.

In his first season as a full-time starter, Rask has gone 17-7-4 with three shutouts in 29 games and is among the league leaders with a 1.95 GAA and .929 save percentage. Head coach Claude Julien has made sure to give Rask plenty of rest and has started backup Anton Khudobin nine times, but there is no doubt Rask will log heavy minutes once the playoff starts.

Rask does have something to prove this postseason. When Thomas struggled in 2009-10, it was Rask who started all 13 playoff games for the Bruins after taking over the No. 1 spot during the season. He was decent in a first-round victory over the Buffalo Sabres, but was also part of the problem when the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals.

He allowed seven goals in winning the first three games, but yielded 15 in four straight losses.

BRIAN ELLIOTT, ST. LOUIS BLUES

No goaltender is hotter in the league right now than Brian Elliott, who seems to have regained his confidence between the pipes for the St. Louis Blues following a brief demotion to the minors.

Elliott got his chance to rebound when Jaroslav Halak suffered a groin injury on April 1 and has responded with five straight winning decisions. He has posted a shutout in three straight games and has a shutout streak of 189 minutes, 31 seconds after beating the Minnesota Wild, 2-0, Thursday night.

That isn't anything new for the 28-year-old, who set a Blues record last season with a 241:33 scoreless streak. His current run has come over three straight road games, breaking Jacques Plante's club road record shutout streak of 141:19 set during the 1968-69 season.

Elliott and Halak captured the Jennings Trophy last season after the Blues led the league with a 1.89 GAA and Halak made 46 starts in the regular season to Elliott's 36. However, it was Elliott who got the bulk of the work in the postseason, making eight appearances and seven starts while logging a 2.37 GAA and .904 save percentage.

Halak might not be ready for the start of the postseason anyway, but the way Elliott is playing right now, it wouldn't have mattered.

COREY CRAWFORD/RAY EMERY, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

This season's Elliott/Halak duo belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks, where Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have complemented a dangerous offense with excellent defense.

Crawford is 15-4-4 with a 2.01 GAA and .922 save percentage in 23 games, while Emery is 15-1-0 with a 1.90 GAA and three shutouts in 19 games. All three blankings have come in his last five starts, spanning March 26-April 9.

Chicago is leading the NHL in points and set a record with a 24-game point streak to begin the season, but the playoffs could be the equalizer.

Crawford has yet to win a playoff series, with Chicago suffering first-round exits in each of the past two years with him in net, and the 28-year-old had just an .893 save percentage versus the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 opening round.

If anything, that series taught Crawford how to deal with the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The first five games of that six-game first round went to overtime, with Phoenix winning three. Crawford should be better prepared for the playoff atmosphere this time around.

Emery, meanwhile, hasn't seen significant playoff action since leading the Senators to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, where the club suffered a five-game loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

CORY SCHNEIDER, VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Like Rask, Cory Schneider had a great view of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 when he watched Roberto Luongo lead the Canucks to the brink of a title versus the Bruins.

But the Canucks now belong to Schneider, who replaced Luongo as the starter during last season's first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings and signed an extension this past offseason with the idea of him becoming the starter.

Those plans hit a bit of a rough patch when the Canucks failed to trade Luongo before the start of the season and the former No. 1 is still a member of the Vancouver franchise after the passing of last week's trade deadline. It didn't help that Schneider struggled at the onset of the season as well.

But Schneider has finally entrenched himself as the main guy and his recent string of 12 straight starts only ended on Wednesday because of illness.

The American-born goalie doesn't have much experience in the playoffs, but is only 27 and figures to begin racking up the postseason starts in a few weeks.

CRAIG ANDERSON, OTTAWA SENATORS

Craig Anderson was a leading Vezina Trophy candidate before suffering a sprained ankle on Feb. 21 and is winless in two games since his return. He also has the 21-year-old Robin Lehner ready to pounce on the starting job should he struggle, but if the Sens hold on for a playoff spot, it will be Anderson who Ottawa leans on.

Anderson had a good regular season in 2011-12, going 33-22-6 with a 2.84 GAA and .914 save percentage and helped the Senators push the top-seeded New York Rangers to seven games in the opening round before falling in defeat.

Injuries have destroyed the Senators this season, with Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek all out in addition to Anderson himself missing time. Still, Ottawa has been able to stay in the postseason race and if it makes some noise come May, it will probably be because of Anderson.

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