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Goalie Rotation Very Uncommon In Playoffs

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights now have a goalie tandem and with it comes goalie controversy. Pete DeBoer has 13 games and four weeks to figure out who will start between the pipes for the Golden Knights in Game 1 of the playoffs. Then, he’ll have to navigate the muddy waters of goalie controversy during the postseason, something very few teams have done, and even fewer successfully, in the last decade.

Over the course of the last 10 years, there have been 80 teams that have won at least one playoff round. Of those 80, 58 used the same starting goalie in every playoff game. That includes six Stanley Cup champions and seven runners-up.

Of the 22 teams to use multiple goalies, just 12 saw three starts or more by two goalies and of those 12, seven were injured forced.

So, out of 80 teams to win a playoff round in the past 10 years, just five purposely use a goalie rotation in the postseason. They are the 2016 Dallas Stars, 2015 Chicago Blackhawks, 2015 Calgary Flames, 2014 Anaheim Ducks, and 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Stars, Flames, and Ducks were eliminated in the second round. Pittsburgh was swept in the Conference final, while the Blackhawks rode a tandem to a Stanley Cup championship.

I detailed all 12, plus the 2016 Penguins, to show exactly how and why the goalies were rotated. (All detailed explanations can be found below this story.) What I found was quite simple, NHL teams do not purposely rotate goalies in the playoffs.

The only successful “rotation” was the Blackhawks who used Scott Darling to win four games in the first round and then never started him again. Every other successful team was forced to swap goalies due to injury.

Marc-Andre Fleury was in the center of three of these situations. Once he was thrust into the role on the morning of Game 1 of the first round. Another he was given a single start in the Eastern Conference Finals after entering the playoffs injured. And the final time he was given the first four starts and never regained his starting position. None of the three did he play in his team’s final game of the season.

It’s unclear how DeBoer plans on using Robin Lehner and Fleury come April and hopefully May and June, but if history suggests anything, the starter in Game 1 will remain the starter unless he’s injured… otherwise, the Golden Knights won’t go very far.


2019 Playoffs

Carolina Hurricanes (Petr Mrazek 11, Curtis McElhinney 4)

The Hurricanes entered the playoffs with Mrazek as their clear starter. He started all seven games of the round one win over Washington. Mrazek was injured in Game 2 of the second round where McElhinney took over. He won that game and the next three while Mrazek was out hurt. Mrazek regained health in the week in-between the second round and the Eastern Conference Finals. Mrazek started Games 1 and 2, McElhinney took over to start Games 3 and 4. The Hurricanes were swept in the Conference Final.

Round 1 – Mrazek, Mrazek, Mrazek, Mrazek, Mrazek, Mrazek, Mrazek
Round 2 – Mrazek, Mrazek*, McElhinney, McElhinney
ECF – Mrazek, Mrazek, McElhinney, McElhinney

2017 Playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury 15, Matt Murray 10)

Matt Murray was set to be the starter heading into the postseason, but he was injured in warmups prior to Game 1 of the first round. Fleury ended up starting the first 15 games of the playoff run. Murray regained health in time for Game 7 of the 2nd round (the team’s 12th game), but Fleury remained in the net. Then, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Fleury allowed four goals on nine shots and was replaced by Murray. Murray went on to start the remaining 10 games and led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup.

Round 1 – Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury
Round 2 – Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury
ECF – Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray
SCF – Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray

2016 Playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins (Jeff, Zatkoff 2, Matt Murray 21, Marc-Andre Fleury 1)

The Penguins entered the 2016 Playoffs without both Fleury and Murray due to injuries. They were forced to start Jeff Zatkoff for the first two games of the first round. He won one and lost the other leading to Murray taking the job back when he was healthy for Game 3. Murray started each of the next 13 before being pulled in Eastern Conference Final Game 4 for Fleury. Fleury then got the start in Game 5, which the Penguins lost in overtime before Pittsburgh went back to Murray for the remaining eight games. Fleury first became available on May 2nd, for Game 3 of the second round. His relief appearance happened 18 days later and his start 20 days.

Round 1 – Zatkoff, Zatkoff, Murray, Murray, Murray
Round 2 – Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray
ECF – Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Fleury, Murray, Murray
SCF – Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray

Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop 11, Andrei Vasilevskiy 6)

Tampa came into the playoffs with a clear starter/backup situation as Bishop started 60 regular season games to Vasilevskiy’s 21. Bishop started each of the team’s first 11 games winning two series and starting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He exited that game on a stretcher and was not available the remainder of the postseason. Vasilevskiy took over and started the final six games losing the series in seven games to Pittsburgh.

Round 1 – Bishop, Bishop, Bishop, Bishop, Bishop
Round 2 – Bishop, Bishop, Bishop, Bishop, Bishop
ECF – Bishop, Vasilevskiy, Vasilevskiy, Vasilevskiy, Vasilevskiy, Vasilevskiy, Vasilevskiy

Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen 10, Antti Niemi 3)

Dallas entered the playoffs with a true goalie tandem, though not a very good one. They started the postseason with Lehtonen giving him the first three games. After following behind 2-1 in the series, Lindy Ruff switched to Niemi. Niemi started Games 4 and 5 with Lehtonen going back in for Game 6. Dallas won the series and moved on where they once again start the round with Lehtonen. Niemi would come in in relief for Game 2 of the second round and then start Game 3. The Stars lost both and they eventually went back to Lehtonen for good.

Round 1 – Lehtonen, Lehtonen, Lehtonen, Niemi, Niemi, Lehtonen
Round 2 – Lehtonen, Lehtonen, Niemi, Lehtonen, Lehtonen, Lehtonen, Lehtonen

2015 Playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford 19, Scott Darling 4)

Crawford was the clear starter heading into the playoffs and started Game 1. He was pulled at the end of the 1st period after allowing three goals. Darling played the final 68 minutes in which the Blackhawks won in double OT. Chicago went back to Crawford for Game 2 in which Chicago lost. They then switched to Darling for the remainder of the round. However, in Game 6, Darling was pulled in the 1st and Crawford led the team to a win clinching the series. Head coach Joel Quenneville went back to Crawford for the remaining 17 games en route to a Stanley Cup championship. Darling did not make another appearance in the playoffs following Game 5 of Round 1.

Round 1 – Crawford, Crawford, Darling, Darling, Darling, Darling
Round 2 – Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford
WCF – Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford
SCF – Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford, Crawford

Calgary Flames (Jonas Hiller 7, Karri Ramo 4)

Hiller came in as the starter but it wasn’t cemented as Ramo had played 32 regular season games to Hiller’s 44. Hiller started the first six games of the playoffs before he was pulled in Game 6 just 7:32 into the game. Ramo stopped all but one and led the Flames to a series win. Calgary went back to Hiller to start the second round, but after one loss they turned to Ramo for the rest of the playoffs. They were eliminated in the second round in five games.

Round 1 – Hiller, Hiller, Hiller, Hiller, Hiller, Hiller
Round 2 – Hiller, Ramo, Ramo, Ramo, Ramo

2014 Playoffs

Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price 12, Dustin Tokarski 5)

Price started the first 12 games of the Habs playoff run getting them to the Eastern Conference Final. Price was injured in Game 1 of the ECF which ruled him out for the remainder of the playoffs. Head coach Michel Therrien chose Tokarski over Peter Budaj despite Budaj serving as the backup to Price for the first 12 games. Tokarski started the final five games going 2-3 and the Canadiens were eliminated in six games.

Round 1 – Price, Price, Price, Price
Round 2 – Price, Price, Price, Price, Price, Price, Price
ECF – Price, Tokarski, Tokarski, Tokarski, Tokarski, Tokarski

Anaheim Ducks (Frederik Andersen 7, John Gibson 4, Jonas Hiller 2)

The Ducks used Hiller as their starter for most of the season, but the rookie Andersen went 20-5-0 so he was certainly pushing the starter. They decided to go with Andersen to start the playoffs where he started all seven games in the first round. He was pulled in Game 7 where Hiller came in and won the game for the Ducks sending them to the second round. Hiller remained the starter for Games 1 and 2 of the second round, but Andersen was given the net back for Game 3. An injury to Andersen in Game 3 led to 20-year-old John Gibson getting the call for Game 4. Gibson started the final four games of the series and the Ducks lost in seven games.

Round 1 – Andersen, Andersen, Andersen, Andersen, Andersen, Andersen
Round 2 – Hiller, Hiller, Andersen, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson, Gibson

Minnesota Wild (Ilya Bryzgalov 8, Darcy Kuemper 5)

Minnesota used four different goalies in at least 10 games during the regular season. They went into the playoffs having named Bryzgalov the starter for Game 1. He started the first two games, both Wild losses. So, they turned to Kuemper who saw the net for each of the next five games. But, in Game 7 of the first round, Kuemper left late in the 3rd period with an injury. Bryzgalov led the team to an overtime win and stayed in the net for all six games of their second round loss to Chicago. Kuemper was unavailable through the first five and served as the backup for Game 6.

Round 1 – Bryzgalov, Bryzgalov, Kuemper, Kuemper, Kuemper, Kuemper, Kuemper
Round 2 – Bryzgalov, Bryzgalov, Bryzgalov, Bryzgalov, Bryzgalov, Bryzgalov

2013 Playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins (Tomas Vokoun 11, Marc-Andre Fleury 4)

The lockout-shortened season meant Fleury started just 31 games but entered the playoffs as the clear-cut starter. He was in the net for each of the first four games but was replaced in Game 5. Pittsburgh went on to win Round 1 in six games and cruised to a five-game series victory in Round 2 with Vokoun in the net for all five. In the Eastern Conference Finals, coach Dan Bylsma stuck with Vokoun for all four games in which the Penguins were swept. Fleury only saw the net one time in the final 11 games of the playoffs, a relief appearance in Game 2 of the ECF in which he gave up three goals on 17 shots.

Round 1 – Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Fleury, Vokoun, Vokoun
Round 2 – Vokoun, Vokoun, Vokoun, Vokoun, Vokoun
ECF – Vokoun, Vokoun, Vokoun, Vokoun

2011 Playoffs

Philadelphia Flyers (Brian Boucher 7, Sergei Bobrovsky 3, Michael Leighton 1)

Bobrovsky was the clear starter for the Flyers and started both Games 1 and 2 for Philadelphia. In Game 2, Bobrovsky was pulled after allowing three goals on seven shots in 12:30. Boucher came in and saved 20 of 21 helping the Flyers recover in the game and win in OT to tie the series. Boucher remained the starter through Game 5, but was pulled in favor of Leighton instead of Bobrovsky who was a healthy scratch. Leighton started Game 6, but he was pulled and Boucher went back in. Boucher kept the net until Game 4 of the second round where Bobrovsky was given one more chance. The Flyers were swept in the second round.

Round 1 – Bobrovsky, Bobrovsky, Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Leighton, Boucher
Round 2 – Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Bobrovsky

2010 Playoffs

Philadelphia Flyers (Brian Boucher 10, Michael Leighton 13)

The Flyers used three goalies for more than 25 starts in the 2009-10 season. Ray Emery was the main starter, but he was injured in February and was forced out for the rest of the season. That left Boucher as the starter heading into the playoffs, He started each of the team’s first 10 games before Leighton took over for the remaining 13. Boucher was injured in Game 5 which is what forced the change. However, Boucher did return to action twice in Game 1 and 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. He came in in relief in both games and earned the loss leading Peter Laviolette to return to Leighton the following game both times.

Round 1 – Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Boucher
Round 2 – Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Boucher, Leighton, Leighton
ECF – Leighton, Leighton, Leighton, Leighton, Leighton
SCF – Leighton, Leighton, Leighton, Leighton, Leighton, Leighton

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14 Comments

  1. DOC Williams

    Thorough comparison Ken, I’m not sure what any of that means for the Knights this year, (I’m trying). Simply these last games will guide Coach D, on who to go with. He’ll play whichever one he feels gives us best chance to win. I agree most teams wouldn’t go with a rotation, but would make a change if the guy they start with, isn’t doing the job. Like I said more games to go to help make that decision. As I set here on March 7th, I would say Lehner would start it off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Herby

    We have 2 Starters! That is a fact. We should simply take advantage of it and rotate in the playoffs as well. As a gambler I believe in streaks. Therefore, simply start with a goalie and keep him in net as long as he is winning. If he lost a game start the other one. If he wins he will start again if not rotate and so one.

    Would be really stupid to have two starters in net and not take advantage of it.

    • Would be blazing a new trail. I’m not necessarily saying they shouldn’t, just trying to illustrate that it hasn’t been successful in the past. That being said, none of the tandems listed are as good as this one.

    • DOC Williams

      Herbie … What you said is contradictory ? Playing a guy and staying with him while he is hot, then if loses, put the other guy in (which is exactly what I think they will do), is NOT a rotation. A rotation is playing each guy every other game no matter if he wins or loses. Just saying…. Agree?

  3. Not sure at this point why all the excitement if they don’t clean up their act it really won’t matter. It will be over before it starts.

    • DOC Williams

      What act is it they have to clean up??? They just come off winning 9 of 10!! A freak goal & missed save, early, put them in a bad situation! That’s all. It doesn’t all-of-a-sudden turn into things they must fix!!!!!!

  4. Joe

    Goalie of the decade, huh?
    Aside from that, it seems like you need to hope whomever starts is playing really well.

  5. DOC Williams

    Man, I can’t understand some of you “fans”. They had a fantastic homestand, played great, then one clunker and it’s a disaster. Feel kind of sorry for those who just can’t enjoy the team & PO run!!!!

  6. Eric Smith

    First I think Lehner is the clear starter.the reason teams don’t switch goalies as often in the playoffs is not that complicated. If your starter is not playing well your behind very quickly and out of the playoffs regaardless of goaltending switch. Although Washington did it a couple of years ago with grubhower down 0-3 switched to Holtby and won the cup

  7. DOC Williams

    Don’t know if they are going win tonight and/or Monday, but I think you will see the passion, effort & heart this team can play with. This is all we can ask and I think they will deliver bigtime! Lets go get’em boys. NOW IS THE TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Tim

    I assume Lehner is going tonight and Fleury tomorrow against the Oilers. I think if Fleury get’s lite up by the Oilers he’ll be joining the pine brothers. They’ve probably figured this might be the way it will play out when they acquired Lehner. Bottom line Foley wants a Stanley Cup and whether we win this year or not that is the goal and he’ll do whatever it takes to win.

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