It’s astonishing how what was once a strength – Canada’s overall depth in goal – will now be its biggest question mark heading into the Olympics. You wonder, if the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup and Corey Crawford has a good run, if his name doesn’t enter the conversation as well. Crawford and his partner Ray Emery had the best cumulative goals-against average in the league this year (1.98 to win the Jennings Trophy), but neither of them made it as a finalist in the Vezina trophy balloting.
The three finalists, chosen by the NHL GMs, include a Russian (Sergei Bobrovsky), a Swede (Henrik Lundqvist) and a Finn (Antti Niemi). Of course, most of those GMs might pick an American (Craig Anderson) right now, based on his work, on behalf of the Senators in the win over the Canadiens. Currently, Anderson’s .950 save percentage leads all netminders in the playoffs, while his 1.80 goals-against average ranks third. Too bad the birth certificate reads Park Ridge, Ill. Anderson, Schneider, Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard and Ryan Miller, the 2010 Olympic tournament MVP, give the Americans plenty of goaltending options for 2014.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS: Courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau, here’s a fun fact about the Penguins’ goaltending quandary: Vokoun’s shutout over the Islanders was his first in the playoffs in more than nine years, or when he was still with Nashville and stopped 41 shots to defeat the Red Wings 3-0 back in 2004. That’s the third-longest gap between playoff shutouts by any goaltender in NHL history. The two larger gaps were by “Sugar” Jim Henry, who recorded shutouts 10 years and 10 days apart (1942 and 1952), and Brian Boucher, who went 10 years and six days (2000 and 2010). It also meant the Penguins became the first team in 34 years to have two goalies with shutouts in the same playoff series, after Fleury won the opener 5-0. The last to do it was the Islanders’ duo of Billy Smith and Chico Resch against the Blackhawks in the 1979 playoffs ... Ottawa outscored the Canadiens 13-0 in the third period and overtimes of their series which again, according to Elias, marked the largest third period/overtime disparity in Stanley Cup history. Yes, the Canadiens really were that bad down the stretch. The previous record came back in 1944, when the Canadiens outscored the Maple Leafs, 13-1, in the third period/overtime of their first-round series ... Last year, the unexpected playoff scoring hero among NHL defencemen was the New Jersey Devils Bryce Salvador, who managed 14 points in 24 playoff games, after contributing just nine assists in 82 regular-season games. This year, the early favourite to do Salvador-like damage is the Penguins’ Douglas Murray, who already has two playoff goals (and one regular season) in the 19 games he’s played in Pittsburgh since coming over at the NHL trading deadline. Previously, Murray had accounted for just eight goals, regular-season and playoff, in 508 games with the San Jose Sharks.
FREEWAY SERIES, CALIFORNIA STYLE: With both the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings leading their respective series 3-2, the possibility exists for a southern California freeway series for the first time in history. The Ducks and Kings have never faced each other in the playoffs, and according to the L.A. Times, there has never been a Freeway series in any of the other major sports in the area. If they get through, it also means that three of the four survivors in the Western Conference will be the California teams, with the Sharks already through, after sweeping the Canucks. Ducks’ forward Teemu Selanne warns however that they need to be cautious and not get too far ahead of themselves: “In playoffs, you’ve got to be ready every day,” says Selanne. “You have to enjoy a little bit when you win, but not long. Satisfaction is your worst enemy in this sport. You’ve got to forget it and start pushing forward” .. The Red Wings’ Mike Babcock, who will almost certainly be Canada’s Olympic coach, on facing elimination with a team being rebuilt on the fly, talking about the need for a better start: “I explained to one of our guys, one of our kids. It’s kind of a lawn mower. You choke it and you start it and it’s revving for a few minutes to get going. We don’t need to be a lawn mower. We need to get that done in warm-up. We just need to be idling, just perfect (when the game begins).”