In a winner-take-all showdown, the goalie is the most important player. He can steal a game, or he can blow it and hand the series to the other team. And when two of the NHL's top goalies are featured, we have to ask: who would you rather have?
The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will head to a Game 7 after the Habs’ 4-0 uppercut at home in Game 6. We’re now at the point where one player can steal the series for his team – or even hand it over to the one on the other bench.
And, of course, goaltending will be at the center of it all. We get into discussions asking “Which goalie would you most want to have in Game 7” for precisely these moments - the best goalies step up to make the difference in these games. And of all the stoppers in the NHL, Tuukka Rask and Carey Price are at least top five options for most. Some may even pick them above anyone else.
So who has the advantage at the most important position for a one-game showdown? The Bruins? The Canadiens?
The first thought, especially on the Western side of the Atlantic Ocean, is to go with Price. And why not? He’s a rock and a proven winner at the junior, American League and Olympic levels. A breakthrough in the Stanley Cup playoffs appear to only be a matter of time for the 26-year-old – even though he’s had his post-season ups and downs, this season is clearly an “up” year.
But Rask is no slouch either. A Vezina finalist (who should be the winner, by the way) Rask has the best save percentage in these playoffs at .940 – 25 points better than Price. At even strength, Rask’s post-season save percentage is a staggering .958.
The Habs have scored 16 goals against Rask this series, to Boston’s 14 against Price. Both goalies have posted a shutout and both goalies have had a game or two they’d like back. Price and Rask also have similar save percentages over the six games they’ve played against each other. And in Boston this series, where Game 7 will be played, Rask is at .902 SP, Price at .904.
The beauty about a winner-take-all, though, is that stats go out the window. What a goalie did in Game 1 or even Game 6 no longer matters - and that goes double for two of the NHL’s most elite goalies. Each is just as capable as the other to catch lightning and singlehandedly carry their team into the conference final.
The only questions that need to be asked in this situation are: which goalie is more likely to steal a game, and which goalie is more likely to let in the costly goal at a costly time?
Defenses aside, I’d run with Price as my Game 7 starter above any other NHL goalie right now. But the choice between him and Rask isn’t all that cavernous.
It's a discussion worth having: Who would you rather want between the pipes in a Game 7?