SAN JOSE, Calif.
-- There are only 30 starting goalie positions in the National Hockey League, and Craig Anderson
had to wait an awful long time to receive an opportunity.
The chance arrived last summer, when the 28-year-old became an unrestricted free agent and signed a two-year deal worth $3.6 million with the Colorado Avalanche
. It has turned out to be arguably the best signing by any team last offseason.
Anderson took the opportunity and ran with it, setting a new franchise record by appearing in a whopping 71 games during the regular season and going 38-25-7 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. On Wednesday, he played in his first-ever NHL postseason game and passed that test with flying colors as he made 25 saves in a 2-1 win against the San Jose Sharks
at HP Pavilion.
"I was just looking for an opportunity somewhere," said Anderson, who appeared in 40 fewer games with the Florida Panthers
in 2008-09. "To be able to come to a winning organization like Colorado, it was kind of a match made in heaven. I think they were looking for a guy to kind of battle for the No. 1 spot. For me, it was a good opportunity to battle. That's what I did."
Anderson's play is arguably the biggest reason why Colorado -- picked by many to finish near the bottom of the League standings again -- was able to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Park Ridge, Ill., native established himself early in training camp and truly has never looked back.
"At 28, a lot of goaltenders are just coming into their prime then," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "He spent a few years as a backup, and he obviously wanted the opportunity to try to establish himself as a No. 1 guy. He's got the right demeanor. He doesn't get rattled easily. I think as a goaltender, you have to be able to bounce things off you pretty quickly, and he certainly does that. He gets re-focused right away.
"He came in and has given us a good performance all year long. He's been very solid all season. He's been a calming influence back there at times with such a young team."
Anderson had never before appeared in more than 37 games as a professional, and that was back with the American Hockey League's Norfolk Admirals back in 2003-04. Even though he nearly doubled that total this season with the Avalanche, he told NHL.com on Thursday that it hasn't taken a toll on his body.
"Not really," Anderson said. "The game's mostly mental. You do all the off-ice training in the summer and you get yourself prepared for it. Sometimes, you just take an extra day of rest and clear your mind and get away from the game."
While his teammates are no longer surprised by his performances, Anderson's ability to steal games was a pleasant surprise earlier in the season. He also came up big early on Wednesday night, stopping six shots during a San Jose power play that was awarded in the first minute of Game 1.
"You have to have a good goaltender to go anywhere," veteran defenseman Adam Foote
said. "I didn't know much about him. He came in and played well for us this year. He gave us a chance every night to win. He's been solid."
Anderson was one of 14 players to make his postseason debut for the Avalanche on Wednesday night, but the nerves certainly weren't visible on the ice. Another one of them, Chris Stewart
, scored the game-winner with just 49.3 seconds remaining to give Colorado a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series that resumes on Friday night at HP Pavilion.
"Our guys did a great job," Anderson said. "A lot of guys have played in the playoffs in juniors or the minors, so I don't think playoffs is a totally new experience for them. For us, it's just another level, another league. Our guys figured it out pretty quickly."
With San Jose in desperate need of a win in Game 2, Anderson is aware of how important the early stages of the contest will be. It will be up to him to once again provide that calming influence that he's displayed all season long.
"One game at a time … we can't get too far ahead of ourselves," Anderson said. "Obviously, they've got a good team over there. They're going to come out and put out their best effort on the ice. We've got to make sure we're ready for it and that we're prepared to weather the storm."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL