NEW YORK -- The quality of goaltenders set to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has never been better, retired NHL goalie Mike Richter says. Any of the 16 participating in the 2017 postseason is capable of stealing a game, a series, being the backbone and bedrock of a run to the Stanley Cup.
Richter knows it well, helping the 1994 New York Rangers win the Cup for the first time in 54 years. Another example is what Jonathan Quick did for the Los Angeles Kings when they were the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference in 2012. Then there was Jean-Sebastien Giguere's performance for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003, a run to Game 7 of the Cup Final that included an NHL record 63 saves in a triple-overtime win against the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, 60 saves in a five-overtime win against the Dallas Stars, and a Ducks record shutout streak of 217:54 before losing to the New Jersey Devils.
The field of goalies that could reach new heights is wide open, said Richter, who appeared at Grand Central Station with the Stanley Cup on Tuesday prior to taking it for a ride on a Metro North train to the NBC Sports Studios in Stamford, Connecticut.
"I don't think the NHL has ever been populated with a better group of goaltenders than you have right now," Richter said "You have two starting goalies who have both won the Cup in Pittsburgh (Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury). You go down the list, every single team has a very, very strong goalie. All of these guys are capable of getting hot and winning series by themselves. Predicting this can be very, very difficult.
"East-West from top to bottom, both conferences are flush with goaltenders that can get the job done."
Video: MTL@NYR: Price dives for remarkable late save in OT
Hard as it was, Richter narrowed the list of 16 to three from the Eastern Conference he'd choose to start a Game 7: Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals), Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens) and Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers). The latter two will square off in an Eastern Conference First Round series beginning at Bell Centre in Montreal on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN, MSG).
"They've been in Game 7s," Richter said. "They've been at the largest stages in the world. I think a lot of people's eyes were open how good Price was during the [2014 Sochi Olympics]. That's a lot of pressure being the guy between the pipes for Team Canada, and he handles this stuff so well. Those three guys are just extraordinarily capable players."
The spotlight will shine heavily on Price and Lundqvist, two goalies who have yet to win the Cup. At age 29, Price was 37-20-5 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for the Atlantic Division champion Canadiens and is in the prime of his NHL career.
Lundqvist is 35 and had an NHL career-high 2.74 GAA and low .910 save percentage, and a 4.39 GAA during a five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round last season. A perception exists that Lundqvist is no longer elite, his window to win that elusive championship closing quickly, but Richter isn't buying it.
"Hank's got a lot of pride and a lot of play left in him," Richter said. "He's probably angered by a lot of the talk. I'm sure he'll respond. I think probably the time that he was off (because of a hip injury) hurt him the last few games but it will help him in the long run. I would not bet against that guy.
"Whatever you lose physically you gain mentally as you age, particularly in a position like goaltending. I still think he has a lot of life left in him."
Thanks in part to Lundqvist and Holtby, Richter likes the Rangers and Capitals to reach the Eastern Conference Final. Out west he likes the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers because of one goalie who's overlooked and another wholly capable of replicating his efforts from the regular season.
"A guy who doesn't get spoken about much is Corey Crawford," said Richter of the two-time Cup winner (2013, 2015). "The guy's put together an incredible career. Every playoffs the man is consistent, he's hard to score on, and he gives his team a chance to win. I wouldn't bet against him.
"Out west, it's really been good to see the Oilers put it all together. Connor McDavid is a world-class player and Cam Talbot's been nothing but spectacular with 42 wins, a very quiet 42-win season. He was the cornerstone of that team. If he plays like that in the playoffs that team is going to be very difficult to beat."