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Experience not a necessity for playoff goalies

by Adam Schwartz / NHL.com

It's a widely held belief that it takes experience to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Maybe.

But maybe not. A hot goalie, whether he has previous playoff experience or not, trumps all when it comes to playoff success.

Llook back to Patrick Roy, who, as a rookie, took the Montreal Canadiens to the 1986 Stanley Cup title.

And how about Hurricanes rookie Cam Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy en route to backstopping the Hurricanes to the 1996 championship?

Jean-Sebastien Giguere wasn't a rookie, but he certainly was a playoff unknown when he led the Ducks to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. He lost that game to the Devils, but went home with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Here's a look at five goalies that could head into the playoffs with no more than one round of playoff experience.  

Tim Thomas, Bruins: Boston's unconventional goalie has been a key to the Bruins' success this season and is among the League leaders in goals-against average and save percentage. Last season, Thomas and the Bruins trailed the Canadiens 3-1 in the first round, but forced a seventh game before falling in Montreal.

This season, however, the expectations are different as the Bruins are the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Steve Mason, Blue Jackets: Mason is the Calder Trophy favorite and a possible Vezina Trophy finalist thanks to his League-leading 10 shutouts. With Mason's help, the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They'll face the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round.

While Mason is an NHL rookie, he is no stranger to big-game success. He led Canada to the 2008 World Junior Championships gold medal, going 5-0 record and a 1.19 goals-against average.

Ty Conklin, Red Wings: The Red Wings likely will go with Chris Osgood to start the playoffs, but should Osgood falter, Conklin could do what Osgood did last season when he replaced Dominik Hasek in the first round of the playoffs and led Detroit to the Stanley Cup.

Conklin's only playoff experience came in the first game of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final with the Oilers, when he replaced an injured Dwayne Roloson. But he'll be remembered for his giveaway behind his net that led to the Hurricanes' game-winning goal.

Chris Mason, Blues: After a rough start to the season, the Blues posted the best record in the second half -- and Mason is a big reason why. In 21 games prior to the All-Star Break, Mason was 5-13-1 with a 2.99 GAA, but he went 8-2-4 with a 1.64 GAA in February and 9-4-1 in March.

Mason's only playoff experience is five games with the Predators in 2005-06. He allowed at least three goals in four of the five games, but Mason had just 21 games of NHL experience prior to that season, and only played 23 games in the regular season. Now an experienced full-time starter, Mason has played a career-high 57 games this season, and won 27, also a career-high.

Jonas Hiller, Ducks: Hiller has raised his game to the point where Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle is going to have a tough time naming a playoff starter. Hiller looks like the current front-runner, as J.S. Giguere's relief appearance on Saturday was his first since March 27.

Hiller played just 23 games as Giguere's backup last season, but with Giguere's struggles this season, Hiller appeared in 46 games, and finished in the top 10 in the League with a .919 save percentage.

Last season, Hiller watched from the bench as the Stars defeated the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. This season, he -- like the rest of his inexperienced brethren -- could see significantly more playing time.

 
Contact Adam Schwartz at aschwartz@nhl.com.
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