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Anderson Aces First Test

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Craig Anderson is well aware that if the Avalanche hopes to make a long run in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he will need to be at the top of his game.

Goalies almost always carry the burden of playing the most important position on the ice, for better or worse. In the postseason, that sentiment rings even more true. One soft goal, one bad break or one lucky bounce that ends up in the back of the net can alter the course of a series.

That fact is not lost on Anderson, who has seemingly become a master of walking the fine line between understanding the pressure of the situation and staying loose between the pipes.

“Any year you’ve seen, more times than not, the MVP of the playoffs is a goaltender. It’s a guy going out there and having fun with it,” said Anderson.

Prior to the opener of his first postseason series, Anderson was quick to point out that it’s not unprecedented for a netminder to shine despite having no prior playoff experience.

“Look at guys like Cam Ward, who came in and played 20 or so games during the regular season but finds a way to have fun in the playoffs and finds a way to win,” said the 28-year-old goaltender. “That’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t come down to experience, it comes down to the guy that is willing to have the most fun out there and play loose.”

During the 2005-06 season, Ward appeared in only 28 regular season contests for the Carolina Hurricanes before going on a historic run during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The netminder started 23 of his club’s postseason games, compiling a 15-8 record with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage as Carolina hoisted the Stanley Cup.

As a result, Ward earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason, while also becoming the first NHL rookie goalie to win a Stanley Cup Finals series since Patrick Roy accomplished the feat with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.

Although situations like Ward’s may be few and far between, Anderson and the Avalanche have become accustomed to being labeled as underdogs.

Heading into the 2009-10 campaign, skeptics doubted that a young team coming off a last-place finish in the Western Conference could challenge for a spot in the postseason, especially with a new goaltender who had never been a full-time NHL starter.

It’s a good thing Anderson pays little attention to those naysayers, instead letting his play do the talking.

“I think he’s surpassed everyone’s expectations,” said Avalanche assistant captain Paul Stastny. “From training camp, when I saw the way he plays and the way he reads the play – he can see where you’re shooting before you even shoot – you knew he was going to be a good goaltender.”

The Park Ridge, Illinois native isn’t the only “unproven” goalie in this year’s postseason. Of the eight starting goalies in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, five are seeing their first postseason action this year (Anderson, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, Chicago’s Antti Niemi, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne). 

Anderson’s counterpart in the opening round, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, is actually the most playoff-tested Western Conference netminder, with 66 NHL postseason games now under his belt following Colorado’s 2-1 victory in Game 1 Wednesday night.

Playing opposite the postseason-tested Nabokov, Anderson was solid all night in his first playoff action.  He stopped 25-of-26 shots on the evening and made six saves on an early San Jose power play that may have been the single most important sequence of the game.

“I just focused on one thing, do my job and stop the puck,” said Anderson. “The guys did a great job cleaning up rebounds and allowing me to see it so there weren’t any rebounds for second and third opportunities. We did a great job blocking shots and sticking to our game plan.”

With his first postseason outing now behind them, Anderson is hoping to put aside all the talk about he and his teammates being inexperienced and just play hockey.

“For me, it’s great to get it over with,” said Anderson. “That first experience was an exciting one coming out there. The fans were great, a lot of energy in the building. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up the entire first period.”
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