Who is your favorite third string goalie to lead his team to the Stanley Cup?
Hell, who’s the best third string goalie to win a whole NHL playoff series? Does one exist?
This time of year, unlikely hero goalie stories like Jeff Zatkoff’s “Mr. Game 1” in 2016 or Louis Domingue going from eating spicy pork to making 17 overtime saves in 2022 are usually best when they don’t over-stay their welcome and can be wrapped up in a timely fashion.
Unfortunately for Domingue and the Penguins, the health and time needed to get Tristan Jarry back has not allowed for a quick conclusion to the feel good story. Domingue has allowed plenty though — to the tune of 19 goals in his five starts, posting an .888 save% in Games 2-6. Incredibly, that’s still better than presumptive Vezina winner and Hart MVP trophy finalist Igor Shesterkin’s .882 save% in the same stretch.
Try as Domingue and the Pens may, though, one can’t stray too far thinking about this series without coming back to the sad fact that a team forced to rely on their third string goalie is dead in the water. Just waiting to be exposed. The Rangers finally did that in Game 6, with star players in Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad finally stepping up and taking advantage.
Kreider only had two goals in the first five games of the series, after pumping in a career-high 52 in the regular season. He woke up and scored twice in Game 6, including the game-winning goal late on a long shot that would have been manageable for NHL caliber goaltending. Perhaps in Game 7 Kreider will realize the payoff of getting pucks to the net from anywhere in the zone.
Zibanejad was even colder entering last night — somehow he had not scored a goal all series (in a series chock full of goals) until Game 6. Zibanejad remedied that in a big way as well, shooting six times and scoring twice. He added two primary assists as well, factoring into all of the Rangers’ non-empty net goals.
Of course, it’s made easier for Zibanejad to shine and have room to operate without Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumoulin on the ice to check New York’s first line center.
At some point, with losses mounting like Pittsburgh has endured, a team can only do so much with what is remaining.
However, the Pens have still been the stronger of the two teams for the majority of the series. Even in the games they have lost, they have been able to get leads. The Rangers’ greatest strength in Shesterkin hasn’t broken the series with his play, a surprising development. Pittsburgh has dominated and cut right through the NYR defense: the Pens’ 201 5v5 scoring chances and 103 high danger scoring chances lead the NHL playoffs by a country mile in each category. This series is right there for the taking.
Which is where Jarry could re-enter the picture as the hero, if only health would allow. Just a little over four weeks after a reported broken foot, will Jarry be able to play in Game 7? It’s the biggest question that could hold the key to the series — and season — for the Penguins.
It would be a lot to ask a goalie who hasn’t played in a month to jump right into a pivotal Game 7 (on the road no less) and perform at a high level, but that is the ask the Pens have right now. Simply hoping for the best is never an ideal strategy, but it beats playing a third string goalie, which will likely yield predictable results after a while.
Coming into the series, not too many people liked the Pens’ chances, even if they had Jarry (..and Crosby...and Dumoulin..and Rickard Rakell). Yet they’ve battled and brought it to a Game 7. Anything can happen when there’s one game left to decide the victor, but for Pittsburgh’s sake, it would be a lot better if they could compete in front of a goalie that would give them a better chance at winning.