The Puck Stops Here
Cam Ward was feeling stingy. A 22-year-old rookie who began the year as a backup, he’d been thrust into the role of starting goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes, and was making the most of the opportunity.
Seeking the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, head coach Peter Laviolette had benched Martin Gerber and turned to the unproven first-round pick out of Saskatoon. The Canadian wasn’t letting much get between the pipes. He’d already posted a pair of shutouts through three-plus rounds of the playoffs. Carolina was now into the winner-take-all Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, facing the five-time champion Edmonton Oilers.
Ward would all but carry the team on his back, leading the ‘Canes to a 3-1 victory and their first NHL title. He would post a 2.14 goals against average and a .920 save percentage in 23 postseason games. For his efforts, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, the first rookie to win it since 1987.
“Goaltending wins you championships,” said team captain Rod Brind’Amour. “No mistake about it. Everybody knows it. We had the best goalie in the Playoffs. [I] got to raise the Cup because of that kid.”
“People say that it’s your rookie season and chances are [playoffs] will come again, but you just never know,” said Ward, who’s only once returned to the postseason. “You can’t predict the future. You got to take care of the present. It's unbelievable. Your childhood dream of winning the Stanley Cup has finally come true and all that work you put forth through minor hockey and junior, it’s all paid off.”
Who’ll get hot this postseason? Here are five goalies who could carry their teams to Stanley Cup glory in 2019.
Ben Bishop | Dallas Stars: The man who led the league with a .934 regular-season save percentage is a short-lister for the Vezina Trophy, the honor bestowed upon the NHL’s top keeper. There are few who fill up the goal quite like 6-foot-7 Big Ben, who holds the franchise mark for the longest shutout streak (233 minutes). This is his first playoff appearance since 2016, when he manned the nets for Tampa Bay.
Sergei Bobrovsky | Columbus Blue Jackets: No one had more shutouts (nine) than Russian Sergei Bobrovsky in 2018-19. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner, 30, hasn’t had the smoothest of rides in Columbus, but there’s no denying that he’s been one of the top netminders in the league over the past five years. At least in the regular season. Will this be the year he finally breaks through in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Robin Lehner | New York Islanders: Isles goalie Robin Lehner has overcome much away from the ice, in the Swede’s own words having come to terms with “the demons in my mind.” Now the free agent signee, who posted a shutout in his debut with the team, appears ready to deliver on the promise that fans came to expect when he first signed with Ottawa in 2010.
Braden Holtby | Washington Capitals: There’s no substitute for experience, and Holts has plenty. A Vezina Trophy winner in 2015-16, the Canadian helped lead the Caps to their first Stanley Cup title last year. He’s also a big reason Washington locked up its fourth straight Metropolitan Division title earlier this month. Can Holtby & Co. make it back-to-back NHL championships?
Marc-Andre Fleury | Las Vegas Golden Knights: During a 13-year run with the Penguins, the man who fans/fellow players have nicknamed Flower won a trio of Stanley Cups (2009, 2016, 2017). An Expansion Draft pickup after the ’17 season, he led Vegas to the title round in Season No. 1. Now 34, he hopes to take the next step and help bring the NHL’s ultimate prize to Sin City.