Ben Bishop (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Goaltenders at all levels of pro hockey have to deal with pressure on a daily basis, but some have more of it to deal with – more specifically, more pressure to produce – in any given season. Here are the five NHL goalies who have the most to prove in the 2015 playoffs.
When you sign up to be a professional hockey goaltender, you do so with the full awareness your life will be an endless pressure-cooker until the day you retire. There are only 60 NHL jobs to be had each season, new faces coming onto the scene every year, and an endless series of "must-win" games that can adversely affect future employment in hockey's top league if things don't go your way.
That said, there are some goalies facing greater amounts of pressure than others. With the way Montreal superstar Carey Price and Nashville net menace Pekka Rinne have played this season, they're going to return as the starter for their respective teams next season regardless of what takes place in the 2015 playoffs. They'll still face pressure, of course. But they don't have as much to prove as some other NHL goalies do. Here are the five goalies with the most to prove in this year's post-season:
5. Frederik Andersen, Ducks. The 25-year-old Andersen is tied for seventh in the league in wins this season, but his save percentage in 52 games is a pedestrian .914, and his numbers in his rookie NHL playoff experience last season – including an .899 SP and a 3.10 goals-against average – raise questions about what he'll be able to do this time around. Andersen is under contract for next season at a very affordable $1.15-million salary cap hit, but he's also got youngster John Gibson (who posted a .919 SP and 2.70 G.A.A. in the playoffs for Anaheim last year) breathing down his neck. A poor performance for him could put the 21-year-old Gibson in the No. 1 role, and he might never surrender it.
4. Brian Elliott, Blues. Elliott has a G.A.A. of 2.27 – 10th-best in the league among starters, and significantly higher than the NHL's 2.57 average – but this is his fourth season in St. Louis, and another first-round exit could mean the end for him with the Blues. The 29-year-old is under contract for two more seasons at a $2.5-million cap hit – but waiting in the wings behind him is 24-year-old rookie Jake Allen, who has posted similar numbers (2.26 G.A.A., .910 save percentage) and is a restricted free agent this summer. One or two poor showings from Elliott in the first round – or any round, really – might be enough for management to go to Allen, for the short-and-long-term.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins. Normally, a Stanley Cup-winner such as Fleury wouldn't have anything to prove. But it's been six seasons since the 30-year-old has won a game in the Eastern Conference Final or beyond, and he's freshly signed to a four-year, $23-million extension that begins next season. Fleury began the season strongly, but his play has fluctuated greatly in recent weeks (in fairness, the Pens haven't given him much help) and he does have a history of mental meltdowns to be concerned about. Would another one give Pens management cause to consider trading him in the off-season? It's not out of the question – and that would also be true if Pittsburgh fails to make the playoffs.
2. Ryan Miller, Canucks. In his prime with the Sabres, Miller was regarded as one of the NHL's top five netminders. But his stock took a hit last season after he was traded to the Blues and posted an .897 SP and 2.70 G.A.A. That said, new Vancouver GM Jim Benning obviously still thought enough of the 34-year-old to sign him to a three-year, $18-million contract last summer. But with that $6-million cap hit comes expectations, and although Miller's numbers (including a .913 SP and 2.47 G.A.A. in 44 games) aren't awful, backup Eddie Lack has posted similar stats (including a .917 SP and 2.56 G.A.A. in 39 games) at a $1.15-million cap hit. The Canucks aren't exactly a spring chicken of a team, and Miller needs to make the most of his opportunity this year.
1. Ben Bishop, Lightning. Since he was dealt from Ottawa to Tampa Bay in 2013, Bishop has been a regular-season revelation for the Bolts: he's posted back-to-back seasons of at least 37 wins this year and last year and been the Lightning's backbone as they've risen to become one of the East's top teams. However, not only does the 28-year-old have zero NHL playoff experience – he was injured late last year and missed the post-season altogether – but Bishop only has one game of playoff experience as a professional goalie, and that came with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL in 2011. With the Bolts being one of many people's pick to win the East and play for the Stanley Cup, Bishop has a major task ahead of him – and talented rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy biding his time and waiting for his shot.