Un­proven goalies tilt­ing the scales

Neu­virth, Greiss et al, com­ing up big in play­offs

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NHLPLAYOFFREPORTNHLREPORT - By Stephen Whyno

WASH­ING­TON — Michal Neu­virth, Thomas Greiss and Martin Jones were sit­ting on the bench as play­off back­ups a year ago. Jeff Zatkoff and Matt Mur­ray were in the mi­nors.

Yet all five goal­tenders have been dif­fer­ence mak­ers in the first round of this year’s Stan­ley Cup play­offs.

Neu­virth has sin­gle­hand­edly got­ten the Fly­ers back into their se­ries, Thomas Greiss has been a rock for the Is­landers, Jones beat his for­mer team to lead the San Jose Sharks into the sec­ond round and Zatkoff held down the fort be­fore Mur­ray re­turned from in­jury to get the Pen­guins back on track.

“They’ve bounced around, they’ve been traded, they had to do their due dili­gence be­hind other goalies that are high cal­i­bre,” an­a­lyst Justin Gold­man of the Goalie Guild said. “Just the pa­tience that they’ve had, con­tin­u­ing to grind it out day in and day out and then when they get that op­por­tu­nity, mak­ing the most of it, that’s what puts Neu­virth be­fore trad­ing him to the Buf­falo Sabres when it was clear Braden Holtby was their goalie of the fu­ture. The Sabres traded him to the Is­landers for jour­ney­man goal­tender Chad John­son be­fore Neu­virth found a new home with the Fly­ers on a twoyear deal.

He’s back in the play­offs where he has been at his best. Count­ing the On­tario Hockey League, Amer­i­can Hockey League and NHL, Neu­virth is 15-1 in play­off se­ries in which he starts at least three games.

“I just like play­ing in the play­offs and like play­ing un­der pres­sure,” Neu­virth said. “I know I could play good in the play­offs and (I’m) just play­ing with con­fi­dence and be­lief in my­self and (I) trust what I do.”

Fly­ers GM Ron Hex­tall de­scribed Neu­virth as a “calm­ing in­flu­ence.” The same can be said of Greiss, who has taken the reins for the Is­landers since Jaroslav Halak went out with an in­jury and whose .938 save per­cent­age is a ma­jor rea­son New York leads the Florida Pan­thers three games to two.

Greiss is on his fourth NHL or­ga­ni­za­tion and has never be­fore been re­lied on like this.

“He has mostly been a backup in his ca­reer, and he is get­ting a shot now and he’s play­ing great hockey,” Florida Pan­thers de­fence­man Brian Camp­bell said.

Jones played good enough in his first play­off se­ries in the NHL to help the Sharks knock off the Los An­ge­les Kings in five games. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer com­pli­mented Jones as a goalie who never gets rat­tled, which is just what that team needed.

The Sharks saw enough in Jones to trade for him and make him the starter, but af­ter years be­hind Jonathan Quick in Los An­ge­les, he had to get the job done af­ter a strong reg­u­lar sea­son.

“I don’t think you re­ally know what you have with a start­ing goalie in the play­offs un­til he’s had the suc­cess,” Gold­man said in a phone in­ter­view Satur­day. “You can project and you can pre­dict and you can do the sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis all you want, but un­til he’s thrown into the fire and he’s put in that sit­u­a­tion, he’s had a chance to prove in real time what he can do, he’s still go­ing to be a lit­tle bit of an un­known en­tity.”

Mur­ray and Zatkoff weren’t un­known en­ti­ties based on their suc­cesses in the AHL, but Pitts­burgh would have liked to have had starter Marc-An­dre Fleury against the Rangers. In­stead, Zatkoff made 35 saves to win Game 1 and Mur­ray got vic­to­ries in Games 3, 4 and 5 as the Pen­guins moved on to the sec­ond round.

The 21-year- old Mur­ray was stel­lar down the stretch for the Pen­guins, but like with Greiss and Jones, no one re­ally knew what to ex­pect from him in the post-sea­son. The ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing handed the net late in the sea­son helped.

“I don’t think any­one can pre­dict the sit­u­a­tions he’s been thrown into,” Pitts­burgh cap­tain Sid­ney Crosby said. “It’s a lot to be thrown at a young goalie. I think he’s han­dled it re­ally well. He’s shown a ton of poise. He’s got con­fi­dence in him­self and he’s re­ally com­pet­i­tive. I think that’s al­lowed him to play the way he has.”


Michal Neu­virth nul­li­fied Alex Ovechkin and the Cap­i­tals Fri­day night.

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