“Defense wins championships” is perhaps one of the biggest sports clichés, but it’s fairly accurate as well. The goaltender in hockey is the last line of defense, but in today’s NHL it seems that you don’t need elite goaltending in order to win a Stanley Cup. You do, however, need competent goaltending. You won’t get through the playoffs if your ‘tender is only stopping 85 percent of the shots he faces.
There are many instances in the past where a goalie has carried his team on his back all the way to a Stanley Cup. Those are always great stories to watch unfold, but I’m not here to discuss those cases today. Today we’re going to look at some instances in the past where poor goaltending actually crippled teams, inhibiting their ability to win a Stanley Cup when all other necessary pieces were in place.
Many great teams fail to win a Stanley Cup during their “window to win,” so to speak, and a lot of those situations were a result of lackluster goaltending. Sometimes it’s a matter of a great team simply not having the requisite goaltending ingredients, and other times it’s a case of a stellar regular season goaltender completely falling off course in the postseason.
Either way, if they’re found on this list, it means they completely let their team down at the most crucial time. Here they are; the top-12 goalies who cost their team the Stanley Cup:
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12 Manny Legace - Detroit Red Wings, 2006
The year following the lost lockout season, the Detroit Red Wings were well-positioned for another Stanley Cup. They had a roster laden with a nice mix of veterans and up-and-coming talent, and they cruised to the President’s Trophy that year, besting the second-place team by 11 points, going 58-16-8.
They were missing one thing all season, though: an undisputed number-one goalie. Manny Legace and Chris Osgood shared the load in the regular season, but when the playoffs rolled around head coach Mike Babcock elected to ride Legace. This proved to be a bad decision, as Legace posted a .844 save percentage in the postseason, and they lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded Oilers.
11 Brian Elliott - St. Louis Blues, 2012-2013
The St. Louis Blues have been a regular season powerhouse for five years now, but they’ve never been able to take that next step by the time spring rolls around. In fact, in 2011-12 and 2012-13, the Blues finished second and fourth in the Western Conference, respectively, yet they only won a single playoff series over those two seasons.
Brian Elliott was the starter for both of these seasons, and his performance dipped when it really counted. This is especially true for the 2012 postseason, where his save percentage and GAA dropped from .940 and 1.56 in the regular season to .904 and 2.37 in the playoffs.
10 Michal Neuvirth - Washington Capitals, 2011
Michal Neuvirth wasn’t THE most disappointing goalie in the 2011 playoffs (see no.5 on this list), but he was the second-most disappointing for sure. The Washington Capitals finished first in the Eastern Conference that year, and they were poised for a deep run. That was until they met the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. They were swept in four straight.
To pin it all on Neuvirth is probably a bit unfair, but he certainly didn’t help. In the four games against the Lightning, Neuvirth was badly outplayed by a 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson. Throughout the four game series, Roloson saw 133 shots, stopping 123 of them. Neuvirth saw 113 shots, and stopped just 97 of them.
9 Roman Cechmanek - Philadelphia Flyers, 2001-03
Roman Cechmanek was the Flyers’ starter from 2000 to 2003, and to call him inconsistent would be a bit of an understatement. During his time in Philly, he was named to the second All-Star Team (in 2000-01), he played in an All-Star game (2001) and was periodically maligned by the fan base (throughout his tenure).
The Flyers finished with good-to-great records in each season that Cechmanek was their ‘tender, but they were never able to piece it together come playoff time. During the regular season as a Flyer, Cechmanek went 92-43-22 over three seasons. In the playoffs during that same stretch? 9-14.
8 Patrick Lalime - Ottawa Senators, 2001-2004
After nearly a decade of ineptitude, fans of the Ottawa Senators finally had something to be excited about in the early 2000s. They’d waited patiently as management built the team slowly but surely since joining the league in 1992, and they finally had a contender on their hands. Heck, they might have even won a Cup or two during that time if it wasn’t for Patrick Lalime.
Lalime was at the helm for every Senators playoff appearance from 2001 to 2004, and he was never able to provide the type of stability a team needs in order to succeed in the playoffs. The Sens decided to cut ties with Lalime following the 2003-04 season.
7 Vincent Riendeau - St. Louis Blues, 1990-1991
I’ve always thought that the St. Louis Blues of the early 1990s were one of the best teams in history to do absolutely nothing in the postseason. The Blues of that era had the famous “Hull and Oates” duo, both of whom eclipsed the 100-point mark in 1989-90 and 1990-91. With Scott Stevens leading on D, the pieces were there.
All the pieces except for goaltending, that is. The Blues rode Vincent Riendeau to two disappointing early exits, most notably the 1991 team that bowed out in the second round after going 47-22-11 throughout the regular season. Riendeau posted terrible numbers in the effort, registering a .881 save percentage and a 3.06 GAA.
6 Garth Snow/Ron Hextall - Philadelphia Flyers, 1997
The late-1990s Philadelphia Flyers had most of the necessary pieces to win a few championships. The 1997 edition was one of the more promising squads, featuring the firepower of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Rod Brind’Amour and Mikael Renberg. But they were never able to acquire one key ingredient: competent goaltending.
Even to this day, finding consistent goaltending in Philly is a problem. In the 1997 playoffs, the Flyers were able to make it to the Final using the Garth Snow/Ron Hextall tandem. The duo posted a combined .892 save percentage throughout the postseason, and they fell to the Red Wings in four straight in the Final. Hextall was between the pipes for three of those losses, and Snow for one. They gave up 16 goals in the four games.
5 Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks, 2011
It was tough to decide where to put good ole’ Bobby-Lu on this list, but I settled on five. Luongo had some stellar performances throughout the 2011 postseason, and his numbers aren’t all that bad when taken as a whole. However, he couldn’t stop a beach ball during the Final in Boston and that ultimately cost the Canucks the 2011 Stanley Cup.
After stopping 64 of the 66 shots he faced over the first two games in Vancouver, Luongo gave up 12 goals on 58 shots over the next two games in Boston (a .793 save percentage). He then proceeded to post another shutout (his second of the series) in Game 5 in Van City. He capped off the collapse by stopping just 22 of the 28 shots he faced over the remainder of the series, all while Tim Thomas put together a Conn Smythe-worthy performance across the rink from him.
4 Stephane Fiset/Garth Snow/Jocelyn Thibault - Quebec Nordiques, 1995
The 1994-95 season was the last one the Quebec Nordiques franchise would play in Quebec. Despite the unclear future of the franchise, fans were pumped heading into the 1995 postseason; the Nordiques won the Northeast Division and were the first seed in the Eastern Conference. With Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Owen Nolan providing the firepower up front, surely the Nordiques were ready to make a run.
They were missing one key element, however: a goaltender capable of stopping the puck in the playoffs. The Nordiques fell in six games to the eighth-seeded New York Rangers, using all three of Fiset, Thibault and Snow. The trio combined for a .871 save percentage on their way to the early postseason exit. The following season, the same franchise won as the Cup as the Colorado Avalanche with Patrick Roy in the crease.
3 Marc-Andre Fleury - Pittsburgh Penguins, 2010-2013
The Pittsburgh Penguins of course won a Stanley Cup with Marc-Andre Fleury at the helm in 2009, but the franchise netminder really struggled in his next four playoff appearances. Over the four postseason appearances from 2010 to 2013, Fleury stopped just 712 of the 809 shots he faced for a paltry .880 save percentage. His career regular season save percentage to this day is .912.
Fleury’s tidied up his numbers up over the past two postseasons after seeing a sports psychologist following the 2013 playoffs (in when he lost his starting job to backup Tomas Vokoun). Nonetheless, the Penguins aren’t as dominant today as they were five years ago, and they really could’ve won another Cup or two with some capable netminding through those years.
2 Roman Turek - St. Louis Blues, 2000
Roman Turek had some phenomenal seasons with the St. Louis Blues, and his best one was the 1999-00 season. He won the William Jennings Trophy that year, and he was also named to the Second All-Star team. The Blues won the President’s Trophy, and they were all geared up for a healthy Cup run.
Unfortunately for them, the wheels fell off Turek in the 2000 postseason, and he cost a very talented St. Louis team a chance at a healthy playoff run. They fell to the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks in the first round in seven games. Turek posted a .882 save percentage and 2.75 GAA through seven games after putting up a .912 save percentage and a 1.95 GAA throughout the regular season.
1 Ty Conklin - Edmonton Oilers, 2006
In the 2006 playoffs, Ty Conklin played approximately six minutes for the Edmonton Oilers, but that was enough to jeopardize the franchise’s chance at a sixth Stanley Cup.
With about six minutes remaining in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Oilers defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron drove Hurricanes winger Andrew Ladd into Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson, injuring the red-hot netminder for the remainder of the playoffs. Head coach Craig MacTavish had been rotating his backups throughout the postseason, and that night it was Conklin waiting in the wings.
The score was 4-4 when Conklin entered the game, and he only faced three shots. As you can see in the above video, it was enough to cost the Oilers the game, and he had a HUGE assist on Rod Brind’Amour’s winner with 30 seconds left. The Oilers went on to lose in seven games, so they very well could have won the Cup if not for Conklin’s Game 1 gaffe.
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