When the clock ran out on the New York Islanders last game of the season, the Isles officially stamped their ticket to the postseason on home ice, becoming the last team to clinch a spot in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s been an interesting year, as scoring is the highest it’s been in decades and goalie stats have dropped to a low they haven’t seen in a quarter century.
Still, as it’s the first time since the pandemic that a regular NHL season and schedule will be played from start to finish, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be a two-month span of talent, grit and luck on the ice.
The talent between the pipes is at a premium, and any goalie could be a difference maker in the postseason. Some of the league’s elite netminders are slated to appear in the playoffs. Despite some overall struggles, have been standouts in talent and vital to their teams’ success. These are the top five goalies in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
5. Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars
The Stars’ goalie is one of the younger players on the list, but the 24-year old has gone to the postseason twice in his short career. His stellar play early in the season helped the Stars withstand some late-season struggles, and his capabilities were instrumental in keeping his team hot out of the gate. The former first-rounder has exceeded expectations and quickly established himself as an elite goalie in this league.
Though his sample size is small–just nine total games, seven of which he started–Oettinger carries an impressive playoff record, with a .956 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against average.
Each of those seven starts came in in the 2021-22 playoffs, and his goalie results stand up: he ended the postseason campaign with a 1.81 GAA and a .954 SV%. He plays well under pressure and can make big saves when it counts, and Oettinger will likely be heavily relied on to carry his team in the postseason.
4. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets’ goalie is just a few seasons removed from his Vezina Trophy win, which he was awarded for being the NHL’s best netminder in 2019-2020. And while he has been hard-pressed to get support from the rest of the Jets’ roster, the 6-foot-4 behemoth between the pipes is nothing if not a stable presence in the blue paint.
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He’s a big reason why the Jets are in the postseason at all, as they started the campaign strong and fell out of favour as the schedule progressed. And he’s proven his worth again this year, as he’s in Vezina Trophy conversation yet again. More than that, his playoff numbers speak for themselves: in 35 games, he’s tallied a .921 SV% and a 2.46 GAA–especially impressive considering he virtually shut out Connor McDavid and the Oilers two seasons ago.
3. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Sorokin’s paddle saves are highlight reel regulars, and he’s bailed out his team–a club that has difficulty finding the back of the net–in countless matchups this season. He, too, is a huge factor in his team’s making the playoffs. His 2.34 GAA and.924 SV% have been among the best in the league for the entire year, and his six shutouts lead the entire NHL. His efforts have not gone unnoticed throughout the league, either–the goalie was voted into the 2023 All Star Game by fans.
Even though the Isles missed the playoffs last year, but he stood out in the team’s 2020-21 playoff run that saw them lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning (who later won the Stanley Cup) in the final four. He split duties and played seven games, starting five, and only lost one appearance. He ended the run with a 2.79 GAA and a .922 SV%.
If the Islanders are going to cause a playoff upset, Sorokin will be the player that leads them through it.
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Vasilevskiy has been synonymous with success in the past few season, regarded as one of the elite goalies in the league for countless seasons and a huge part of the Lightning’s playoff success. His club has made it to the Stanley Cup Final in three straight seasons, and has been an NHL All-Star every year since 2018. He won the Vezina Trophy in the 2018-2019 season, and the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP in the 2020-2021 season, after he hoisted the Cup for the second straight time.
While he’s seen a small dip in numbers this season (small by his own standards, not necessarily by league standards), he’s still an elite goalie in the league and a formidable opponent for the postseason. Beating him to find the back of the net will be a tough task.
1. Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
The NHL stats board has seen Linus Ullmark’s name at the top of the list pretty regularly since the season began, thanks to a record-breaking team and an impressive performance from the goalie who, seemingly, came out of nowhere.
He, like Hellebuyck, is a big body in the net, standing at 6’5″ and 212 lbs. But, he has a lot to prove in the playoffs, as his only two postseason appearances were with the Bruins last year and resulted in two losses and less than stellar stats. Surely, though, Ullmark’s Cinderella year is expected to continue to the postseason, where the Bruins are considered an absolute force to be reckoned with–thanks, in part, to Ullmark’s superior efforts.
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