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Coaches Room

Stanley Cup Playoff fortunes can be decided by goalie depth

Marcoux says Stars, Islanders, Flames among those with more than one strong option

by David Marcoux / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2018-19 NHL season by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher.

In this edition, David Marcoux, former goaltending coach for the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames, discusses the outlook in goal for teams who have clinched a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs or are close to doing so.

We've all formed our opinions about how the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are going to look in terms of who's playing well, who's stalled, and who the favorites and underdogs are.

One factor I believe is important is goalie depth. In the past four seasons, each Cup-winning team relied on more than one goalie on the road to victory in the playoffs.

In 2015, it was Corey Crawford and Scott Darling getting the Chicago Blackhawks through.

In 2016, it was Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury and even Jeff Zatkoff for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In 2017, it was Fleury for Pittsburgh, followed by Murray.

For the Washington Capitals last season, Philipp Grubauer was hot late in the regular season with seven wins in his final 10 starts. He started Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, allowing Braden Holtby time to find his game and retake his starting job two games later.

There are several teams who could benefit from such a dynamic in the playoffs this season. 

The Dallas Stars were well aware that when Ben Bishop is healthy he can be a dominant, oversized (6-foot-7, 215 pounds) goalie who is excellent playing the puck. But Bishop also has a history of injuries; he is out with an upper-body injury, though he is expected to return this week.

Dallas has gotten a great contribution this season from backup Anton Khudobin, who signed with the Stars as a free agent. He's very competitive and well-regarded in that locker room. I've coached him in years past, and Khudobin has never seen himself as a backup. Dallas has planned well.

Video: Stars clinch first playoff berth since 2016

The New York Islanders are also a team trending the right way. They have Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, a great combination this season. Each has five shutouts and the faith of his teammates.

Mike Smith and David Rittich each has had a few dips in performance throughout the season for the Calgary Flames, but each seems to have a positive mindset heading into playoffs. It must be quite comforting for coach Bill Peters to know that he can put Rittich in to change the momentum. 

The Boston Bruins are another team with depth and experience, and Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak each has a playoff track record that's going to allow the Bruins to play with confidence no matter who their goalie is. 

The St. Louis Blues are trending the right way, including with their goaltending. Jordan Binnington has to be in the running for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie, and his play has really changed the dynamic of the Blues. But if St. Louis ever needs another option, they have the experienced Jake Allen.

And the Columbus Blue Jackets (who have not clinched a playoff berth) had the foresight to acquire veteran Keith Kinkaid from the New Jersey Devils prior to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline even though they have two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky. They also have backup Joonas Korpisalo, but Kinkaid gives them another option.

On the other side of the coin, there are some teams that would leave me with questions should their No. 2 come into the picture in the playoffs.

I think the world of Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Murray of the Penguins (who have not clinched), Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets and Carey Price, who could end up sneaking into the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens.

 

[RELATED: Canadiens, fans enjoy ride during playoff race | Playoff primer: East | Playoff primer: West]

 

Of this group, only Hellebuyck hasn't been out with an injury this season, and if any of them were to be sidelined for a game or a series, there would be a greater level of worry in my mind.

I'm a big believer that the work ethic of your backup goalie is critical, especially in a case where there is a clear No. 1. It can matter so much if he fits in the locker room and is well-liked to the point where his teammates will go through a wall to help him succeed when it's his turn to play.

I also know one thing about the games and series ahead in the playoffs: It won't matter which goalie has prepared the best, worked the hardest or has the most allies in the locker room, whether he is a starter or backup.

The whole thing is really simple: Once you're in the net, you'd better stop pucks. Guys will work their butts off to block shots and make plays to help you, but if you let in soft goals, the whole plan to try to win the Stanley Cup goes back to square one.

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