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Holtby joins list of unlikely playoff goaltending stars

by Tal Pinchevsky /

Fresh off a 44-save performance against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Washington's series-tying Game 4 win on Thursday, rookie goaltender Braden Holtby just might be the biggest name in a playoff series full of stars. After leading the Caps to a 2-1 win, Holtby enters Saturday's Game 5 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS) with a 6-1-0 career record when facing more than 30 shots -- and is bringing back memories of some of the unlikely goalies who've taken their teams to the Stanley Cup or on long playoff runs.

Antti Niemi
Antti Niemi - 2010 POSTSEASON
Goalie - CHI
RECORD: 16-6
GAA: 2.63 | SVP: 0.910
Antti Niemi, Chicago Blackhawks, 2010: With 42 NHL appearances to his credit and not a second of playoff action, Niemi wasn't the favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup. But the veteran of the Finnish league put up two shutouts in his first four playoff games, becoming the first Hawks goaltender since Tony Esposito in 1974 to record two shutouts in one series.

In leading the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup win in 49 years, Niemi enjoyed a seven-game postseason winning streak in which he allowed just 14 goals.

Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Canadiens, 2010: With just three playoff appearances and no postseason wins to his credit entering the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Halak wasn't expected to carry the Canadiens to their first conference final in almost two decades. He had shown glimpses of excellence in his 101 regular-season appearances, but nothing on par with his exploits against top-seeded Washington in the first round.

Starting with a 45-save win in Game 1 against the Caps, Halak went on an absolute tear that peaked with his 53 saves in Game 6, a club record for a regulation playoff win that was instantly etched in Habs lore. After topping Washington in seven, Halak enjoyed four games with 33 or more saves, all wins, as the Canadiens eliminated the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Cam Ward
Cam Ward -  2006 POSTSEASON
Goalie - CAR
RECORD: 15-8
GAA: 2.14 | SVP: 0.920
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, 2006: Coming into the 2006 playoffs, Ward was a 22-year-old who was expected to be relegated to bench duty behind Martin Gerber. But back-to-back losses in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Montreal persuaded coach Peter Laviolette to make a change and go with the rookie.

Ward not only stepped in for Gerber, he won his first seven postseason starts, allowing a measly nine goals along the way. Less than two months later, the kid goaltender with 28 games of NHL experience had gone from a backup to one of the youngest Conn Smythe Trophy winner ever after leading the 'Canes to the first championship in franchise history.

Johan Hedberg, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2001: Playing on a team that included Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr certainly helped, but there is still no substitute for NHL experience. So when Hedberg started in Pittsburgh's net with just nine games of NHL experience under his belt, he was at a strategic disadvantage.

But the veteran of the Swedish league allowed two goals in his first three career playoff games, giving the Penguins a stable crease presence. Just weeks after starring with Manitoba of the International Hockey League, Hedberg had Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey. It was there that he finally fell against New Jersey -- and future teammate Martin Brodeur.

Carey Price
Goalie - MTL
Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, 1986: Before Roy arrived in Montreal, there was almost no precedent for a rookie goaltender coming in and dominating the playoffs. Despite playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League just a year earlier, the 20-year-old gave the hockey world a long, hard look at the Hall-of-Fame career to come.

After a sweep of Boston, Montreal dropped Game 1 of its second-round series, 4-1 to Hartford. From there Roy allowed one goal or fewer in four of the next six games before wrapping up his first Stanley Cup by bearing Calgary in five games to become the youngest Conn Smythe Trophy winner in history.

Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens, 1971: There are unlikely Stanley Cup heroes -- and then there is Dryden. After starring at Cornell, the 24-year-old came into the 1971 postseason with all of six regular-season appearances on his resume. He did go 6-0-0 in those appearances, but there was no reason to believe that the future Hall of Famer was about to lead the Canadiens on a once-in-a-lifetime Stanley Cup run.

Dryden backstopped Montreal to a first-round upset of the defending champion Boston Bruins, a six-game victory against Minnesota and a seven-game victory in the Final against the Blackhawks, including a Game 7 win at Chicago Stadium. That earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

In an illustrious NHL career, Dryden proved that his historic rookie run wasn't a fluke, winning the Stanley Cup five more times before retiring in 1979.

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