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Nothing compares to playoff pressure on goalies

Monday, 04.29.2013 / 4:39 PM / Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Nothing compares to playoff pressure on goalies
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a goalie's crucible. How he handles the pressure and the rising heat goes a long way in determining how far he goes, how successful he is.

Chris Osgood was already on the bench when he watched Marc-Andre Fleury crush his dream of winning a fourth Stanley Cup championship.

Fleury robbed Henrik Zetterberg with a pad save and slid across the crease to get his blocker on Nicklas Lidstrom's shot that appeared to be targeted for the open net. Fleury's Pittsburgh Penguins won Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, 2-1, against Osgood's Detroit Red Wings.

Fleury was a hero, forever a legend. The feeling was that nobody in Pittsburgh would ever question him again.

"That's how I think of Marc-Andre Fleury," Osgood told NHL.com.

That's not how Fleury is viewed anymore -- not after he wore the goat horns last April, when he allowed 26 goals in a six-game first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. It wasn't all Fleury's fault. He deserved his share of the blame, but he wasn't as bad as his 4.63 goals-against average and .834 save percentage would indicate.

But as the goalie, he took the fall. There was no way around it.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a goalie's crucible. How he handles the pressure and the rising heat goes a long way in determining how far he goes, how successful he is.

"The goalie gets too much credit and gets blamed too much. That's never going to change," Osgood said. "But goalies have to learn to deal with it. If you have a bad game and you're getting the Bronx cheer you've got to deal with it. You've got to play. You've chosen that position. It may not be your fault, but the average person doesn't know that. They're going to see you win and that's all they care about."

The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be no different.

Heroes will emerge; others will be crushed under an avalanche of pressure. The reputations of first-timers James Reimer and Viktor Fasth will grow or be sullied with successes and failures.

Past champions or Cup Finalists -- Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Antti Niemi and Ray Emery -- will be graded against their past performances. Fairness has no place. What they have done to be great is now a measuring stick for what they should do again, regardless of team, opponent or situation.

The less experienced goalies -- Corey Crawford, Carey Price, Jimmy Howard, Braden Holtby, Brian Elliott, Craig Anderson and Jonas Hiller -- will be expected to take the next step, to advance further than they have before. If they don't, they'll enter the offseason burdened by doubters even if they don't want to admit it.

Henrik Lundqvist will be watched closely to see if he can get it done this postseason. (Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI)

Cory Schneider and Tuukka Rask rose to be No. 1s for their respective teams because they're supposed to have the mental capacity to succeed in the spring. We'll find out quickly.

Henrik Lundqvist will be watched closely to see if he can get it done. He has been close, including the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but is he a champion or is he a contender who will never get over the hump, never be elite enough in the spring to be worthy of the accolades he receives every fall and winter?

"There's a thin line for a goalie in the playoffs between being a goat and a hero," NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes told NHL.com.

"How many times do you hear someone say, 'You can't win in the playoffs without good goaltending?'" Weekes added. "Nobody says, 'We need our centers to be playing good two-way hockey to give us a chance.' Nobody says, 'We need our third-pair defensemen to be rock solid, play a good 12-13 minutes and they can't cost us anything when they're out there.' Nobody says that. They just keep saying, 'Without good goaltending you can't win.' You feel that."

And it can be quite a drag.

Weekes, who played eight games in Carolina's run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, said it doesn't have to be as long as a goalie doesn't let the magnitude of the moment get to him.

"You've gotta breathe," he said. "It's easy to get caught up in the moment, but one thing that helped me was deep breathing in between stoppages of play. Deep inhales, deep exhales and positive self-talk."

What about mindset?

"A big thing is trying not to let in the first goal," Weekes said. "You do that every game in the regular season, too, but really putting extra pressure on yourself now to not let in that first goal. Patrick Roy always said a big part of his success was his mindset, including his mindset for not wanting to allow the first goal. That rings even truer in the postseason."

Viktor Fasth
Viktor Fasth
Goalie - ANA
RECORD: 15-6-2
GAA: 2.18 | SVP: 0.921
Even if a goalie does all of that, it won't shield him from blame if things go south. That's a result of the attention. The goalie is typically the most sought-after player by the media after games and on practice days. He is always in the public eye.

"You can't hide," New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur told NHL.com. "It's like a pitcher. It's like a quarterback. In big games you can't hide. As a goalie you'll be judged. If you win you're the second coming. If you lose, it's, 'I can't believe he can't get it done.' In the regular season you can be as good as you want, but it's just a different ballgame in the playoffs."

So much so that Brodeur said he recalls times when he thought about what he was going to say to the media immediately after he let in a so-called bad goal, like the one he gave up in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, when he fumbled and dropped his stick only to have the puck go in off of him. The Devils went on to win the series in Game 7.

"I took it like it was funny and my own players were laughing at me," Brodeur said. "That's the attitude you need to have when bad things happen."

Osgood, though, said a goalie has to self-analyze more in the playoffs because a bad goal can be looked at one way by a critic and totally differently by a goalie. The goalie has to trust his own perspective.

"I would say for the most part if you're watching the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in its entirety, there are not a lot of bad goals," Osgood said. "But these are goals that I would deem bad, that I know are bad. There are ones that are great shots and good shots that maybe aren't the ones that a normal person would like, that people call bad goals, but that isn't the case. I definitely think there is overreaction."

Even if the goalie trusts his judgment, it doesn't tend to matter when the stakes are high and everything is magnified. The key is to not let it get to him, to not take it home from the rink. But that's impossible.

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 18-13-4
GAA: 2.45 | SVP: 0.902
"You do take things home with you because everything is so magnified and the people around you make it that way," Brodeur said. "If you have friends and family and you're seeing them, it makes it hard because you want to be in your own shell. There are some people around, they're on your toes about what to say, and you feel that.

"You take stuff more to heart in the playoffs. That's the nature of it."

Reimer and Fasth are about to figure that out. Schneider and Rask are, too. It's a different level now.

Fleury, Quick and Niemi have been to the top, so naturally they're supposed to get there again. If they don't, they'll hear the word disappointment.

Crawford, Holtby, Price, Howard, Anderson, Elliott and Hiller have no more excuses. They know what this is like. They know the pressure. They've lived this before.

Emery, Lundqvist, Evgeni Nabokov and Niklas Backstrom, who hasn't been to the postseason since 2008, may not have too many chances to live it again. They don't have time to get used to the pressure.

"The moments are huge," Weekes said. "Each moment within a game is so much bigger than it would be in a regular season. So many people are watching. The atmosphere inside and outside the arena is crazy. The media is crazy heightened."

One goalie will be called a hero. Several will be labeled goats. Welcome to the playoffs.

"You just can't be average," Brodeur said.

Even if you were great once before.

---

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