The job of an NHL goaltender is one that is often accompanied by inconsistency. There are very few goaltenders who can play at the top of their game, every single night for an entire season. It’s part of the struggle of being in a position where every game you have the ability to singlehandedly win or lose the game for your team. Every goalie is bound to have an off night. Some goalies manage to play through the slumps and not let one bad game turn into two or four or ten. Others are in a constant battle with their own confidence and have to fight every night just to keep their job.
Perhaps the biggest difference between a great goaltender and a very good one is the ability to provide stellar play not only through an 82 game season, but into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well. Some goalies thrive under the pressure of the postseason. Patrick Roy may have won 551 regular season games, but he would not be in the conversation for greatest goaltender of all time if not for his four Stanley Cup victories and three Conn Smythe Trophies. JS Giguere’s legendary play in the 2003 Playoffs garnered him attention as one of the greatest goaltenders of his era.
While great playoff goaltending can put a very good team over the top, in the case of Roy, or take an underdog team to unimaginable heights, in the case of Giguere, poor goaltending in the postseason can completely deflate a team. A team that seemed destined for victory can quickly find themselves out of the postseason due to subpar play between the pipes. The Philadelphia Flyers may be a classic example of a team whose goaltending always fails them in the playoffs, but they are far from the only ones. Here are 15 teams who would have won the Stanley Cup if not for poor goaltending:
15. 2005-06 Lightning
When the NHL implemented a salary cap following the 2004-05 lockout it forced many teams to dump salary and let players walk via free agency. The defending champion Lightning were able to keep the core of their team together – at least for a little while – but they were unable to re-sign goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and had to hand the bulk of the team’s starts to John Grahame. Grahame was able to get the Lightning to the 2006 playoffs, but his play in the postseason drew the ire of coach John Tortorella who, after Grahame gave up four goals on 16 shots in a Game 4 loss, proclaimed, “I’m really tired of the 25 percent rule.”
14. 2000-2004 Ottawa Senators
Throughout the four seasons that preceded the 2004-05 lockout, the Senators were one of the NHL’s top regular season teams, topping the 100 point mark three times and picking up a Presidents’ Trophy earning 113 points in 2002-03. However, the team was able to make it as far as the Eastern Conference Final just once, due in large part to the inconsistent goaltending of Patrick Lalime.
The final straw for Lalime came in the 2004 playoffs when he gave up three first period goals – including two must stop goals to Joe Nieuwendyk – in Game 7 of the Senators’ fourth playoff series loss to the Maple Leafs in five years.
13. 1999-00 St. Louis Blues
The Blues finished the 1999-00 season with a Presidents’ Trophy winning 114 points, but quickly found themselves in a 3-1 hole in their first round matchup with the San Jose Sharks, in part because of the shaky goaltending of Roman Turek. The Blues stormed back to force a Game 7, but lost the deciding game 3-1 after Turek surrendered a first period goal to Owen Nolan on a shot from centre ice that would prove to be the series winner.
12. 2002-03 Philadelphia Flyers
The first incarnation of the Philadelphia Flyers to make this list is the version which finished the 2002-03 season with 107 points and a league best 166 goals against. The Flyers goalies, Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche, shared the William Jennings Trophy with Martin Brodeur for their performance. Cechmanek got the majority of the starts for the Flyers, going 33-15-10 with a .925 SV% and a 1.83 GAA and was the team’s playoff starter. Despite some awkward moments in their opening round series against the Maple Leafs – including one goal that was scored while Cechmanek bent down to pick up his catching glove when the puck was in his own end – Philadelphia ousted Toronto in seven games.
However, Cechmanek’s inconsistency was too much for the team to overcome in their second round matchup with the Ottawa Senators. Cechmanek posted two shutouts in the series, but gave up 10 goals over the series’ final two games. He was subsequently traded the following offseason.
11. 2000-2004 Vancouver Canucks
Much like the Ottawa Senators, the Canucks were also a strong regular season team in the early 2000s, led by a top line of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and Todd Bertuzzi. The Sedin twins were emerging as offensive threats for the Canucks and the team was built with a solid defense that included Ed Jovanovski and Mattias Ohlund.
However, the play of inconsistent goaltender Dan Cloutier never allowed the team to get past the second round of the playoffs. Cloutier is best remembered for a goal he gave up on a Niklas Lidstrom slapshot from centre ice in the 2002 postseason. Over four playoff years Cloutier posted an .872 SV% and a 3.31 GAA that ranks 109th out of the 130 goaltenders who have started 20 or more postseason games.
10. 2008-09 San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are a team that always finds a way to come up short in the postseason and goaltending has always been at least partially to blame. The best Sharks team in franchise history may be the one that finished the 2008-09 season with a Presidents’ Trophy earning 117 points. They never made it out of the first round, however, losing to the eighth seeded Ducks in six games in a series in which Evgeni Nabakov posted an .890 SV%.
9. 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings
Much like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Red Wings were able to keep the core of their team together after the 2004-05 lockout, but unlike the Lightning the Red Wings received stellar goaltending all season long from an unproven Manny Legace. Legace posted a 37-8-3 record with a 2.17 GAA and .915 SV% while helping the Red Wings to a Presidents Trophy with a whopping 221 points. However, Legace would be a detriment in the playoffs where he posted an .884 SV % in a six game loss to the Oilers.
8. 2006-07 Ottawa Senators
Led by a 50 goal season from Dany Heatley, the Senators finished the 2006-07 season with 105 points and knocked off each of the Penguins, Devils, and Sabres in five games on their way to a Stanley Cup Final meeting with the Ducks. Goaltender Ray Emery, who had provided superb goaltending through the first three rounds, was not at his best in the Final, posting just an .871 SV% and 3.24 GAA. Goaltending wasn’t the Senators only problem in the Final – Chris Phillips’ own goal and Daniel Alfredsson shooting the puck at Scott Niedermayer which lighted a fire under the Ducks didn’t help – but a few timely saves could’ve made a difference.
7. 2011-12 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins have only picked up one Stanley Cup victory in the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin era. Much of the blame for the team’s postseason failures since their 2009 win, has fallen on the shoulder’s of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The 2011-12 version of the Penguins looked like their best shot to pick up another Cup victory. They finished the season with 108 points behind an Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award winning 109 point season from Malkin and Crosby’s return from a concussion boosted the team’s playoff hopes. However, in a goal filled first round matchup with the Flyers, Fleury posted an abysmal .834 SV% and 4.63 GAA and the Penguins lost the series in six games.
6. 1990-91 St. Louis Blues
The Blues finished the 1990-91 season with 105 points on the strength of an 86 goal season from Brett Hull and a 90 assist season from Adam Oates. The Blues knocked off the Red Wings in the opening round of the playoffs, but were upset in six games by a Minnesota North Stars team that had finished the regular season with 37 fewer points, in a series in which Vincent Riendeau posted a SV% of just .872. Riendeau started just three games of the 1991-92 season before he was traded and the team handed the goaltending reigns over to Curtis Joseph.
5. 1974-75 Buffalo Sabres
Led by the French Connection of Rene Robert, Gilbert Perreault, and Rick Martin the Sabres finished the 1974-75 season with an NHL best 49 wins and tied for first place with 113 points. The Sabres gave the majority of their postseason starts to Gerry Desjardins. Desjardins played well in the opening rounds, including making several big saves on Montreal Canadiens star Yvan Cournoyer to send the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final.
However, Desjardins was admittedly nervous in the Final and was shaky in the Sabres’ first two losses. He was replaced by Roger Crozier for a fog filled Game 3, but returned to the net for Game 4 to pick up the victory. When it came time for the series deciding sixth game, Desjardins told Sabres coach Punch Imlach he would not play because he was a “basket case”, and the Flyers won the Cup with a 2-0 victory.
4. 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers
The 2009-10 version of the Flyers headed into the season expecting to contend for the Stanley Cup, but injuries to key pieces and bad play led to a slow start and ultimately the dismissal of head coach John Stevens in favour of Peter Laviollete. When starting goalie Ray Emery suffered a season ending injury, the team claimed well traveled veteran netminder, Michael Leighton, off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes. Leighton started his second stint with the Flyers off well enough, but he too soon suffered an injury and the team handed the reigns to Brian Boucher.
The Flyers snuck into the postseason and when Boucher went down with his own injury in the second round, Leighton returned and provided superb goaltending to get the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final. However, Leighton’s play in the Final left a lot be desired. He posted just an .876 SV% and 3.96 GAA in a six game series loss to the Blackhawks.
3. 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers were a fringe playoff team for the majority of the 2005-06 season due to a lack of an experienced number one goaltender. When they traded for Dwayne Roloson at the 2006 trade deadline it gave the team an immediate boost. The Oilers defeated the Red Wings, Sharks, and Mighty Ducks to become the first number eight seed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. When Roloson went down with a series ending knee injury in Game 1of the Final, it devastated the Oilers. Roloson’s replacement, Ty Conklin, gave away the puck, leading to the game winner in Game 1and was replaced by Jussi Markkannen for the remainder of the series. Markkannen filled in admirably, but was unable to make up for the loss of Roloson.
2. 1970-71 Chicago Blackhawks
Tony Esposito had a long, Hall of Fame career in the National Hockey League, but he’s often remembered for never being able to lead his Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory. The epitome of that came in game seven of the 1971 Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens. With Chicago up 2-0 late in the second period of the series deciding game, Esposito surrendered a goal on a Jacques Lemaire slapshot from centre ice. The Blackhawks never recovered and the Canadiens came back to win the game 3-2 to pick up their 17th Cup victory and extend a decade long Cup drought for the Blackhawks that would last for another 39 years.
1. 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks picked up their first Presidents’ Trophy following the 2010-11 season and knocked off the Blackhawks, Predators, and Sharks behind the stellar play of Roberto Luongo en route to the Stanley Cup Final. However, Luongo’s play completely unraveled in the Final. He posted two shutouts in Vancouver, but gave up eight goals in Game 3 and was pulled in Games 4 and 6- all in Boston. With the Canucks still having a chance to win the Cup in Game 7, Luongo gave up three goals on 20 shots in a 4-0 loss. The Sedins may have pulled off a vanishing act in the Final, but the Canucks still got within one win of the Stanley Cup, behind sub-par goaltending, making them the number one team on this list.
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