The dream NHL playoff team has a deep roster and an overall well-rounded lineup that doesn’t rely on any one individual player to put the rest of his team on his back. In recent memory, the Stanley Cup champions from the past two years, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, both had postseason runs driven by overall team efforts. The Washington Capitals, on the other hand, are a good example of the perils of relying on one player, as their constant reliance on Alex Ovechkin has proven futile in each of the last six seasons. Still, it is sometimes necessary for a player to perform above and beyond in order to give his team that extra push to realize playoff success.
This year, the name that I immediately think of is Sergei Bobrovsky. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ netminder received the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie last season thanks to a 2.00 goals against average and .932 save percentage. While he won’t repeat as this year’s winner, he has been absolutely vital to his team’s success. His stellar play – five shutouts and nearly 1,700 saves in 58 games – was arguably the biggest reason that Columbus earned their second playoff berth in franchise history. In April especially when every game was of the utmost importance for the Jackets’ tight playoff race with Detroit and Washington, Bobrovsky performed incredibly, averaging just 1.82 goals against and a save percentage of .945. Now, with his club matched up against one of the most offensively-gifted lineups in the league, Bobrovsky has a chance to continue that dominance and shock the hockey world with a big upset.
Nearly every hockey analyst and fan picked the Penguins to blow the Blue Jackets out of the water – only one of eight NHL.com analysts went with Columbus – but I really think that folks underestimate the importance of good postseason goaltending. Since he backstopped the 2009 Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been notoriously inept come playoff time. In fact, when compared with the 24 other goalies who have played at least 10 games over the last four playoff seasons, Fleury ranks dead last with an abysmal save percentage of .880. Fleury is a great goaltender in the regular season, but the facts are that since his Cup run, he’s been just dreadful in the playoffs, and if he is matched up against a player like Bobrovsky on the other side of the ice, it inevitably spells trouble for the Penguins.
Unfortunately for the fine folks of Columbus, Ohio, I can’t quite imagine the Blue Jackets hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup this year. Teams like the Bruins and the Anaheim Ducks simply have too much firepower and too much depth to be beaten by an inexperienced club like the Jackets. If Bobrovsky plays the way we all know he is capable of playing, however, he should be able to lead them past the first round and potentially as far as the conference finals.
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