Like Lehner, Mrazek makes most of his opportunity
Robin Lehner and Petr Marzek star as goaltenders that have been the story of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This year’s Stanley Cup playoffs feels like a throwback in a sense goaltenders are playing like a difference maker in these games. In recent years, teams can win the Stanley Cup without a goaltender stealing a game for them or playing well to put them in a position to win.
Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner stopped most of the shots the Pittsburgh Penguins peppered at him in the Islanders’ sweep of the Penguins in the first round of the best-of-seven series. Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek showed why the Detroit Red Wings were high on him once when they drafted him by leading the Carolina Hurricanes to a Game 7 win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in the first round. St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington turned out to be a revelation by shutting down the high-powered Winnipeg Jets in the first round in leading the Blues over a first-round upset over the Jets, and he made 16 of his 27 saves in the third period to give the Blues a 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal on Thursday night.
Lehner and Mrazek served between the pipes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal at Barclays Center on Friday night. Both played well by making 31 saves for their respective teams. In the end, Mrazek came out as the winner in the Hurricanes’ 1-0 overtime victory over the Islanders to take a 1-0 series lead.
Mrazek was why the Islanders lost. He made a glove save of Cal Clutterbuck in the third period to deny the Islanders a lead. He denied Jordan Eberle several times. He stopped Anthony Beauvillier from attempting to finish the goal. He clearly frustrated the Islanders in the third period. In a game the Hurricanes came in weary from a seven-game series with the Capitals, he came through in stealing the game for them.
Lehner was not why the Hurricanes won. He did his part just matching what Mrazek did. Put this on Clutterbuck for not defending Jordan Staal, who was wide open to score the game-winning goal for the Hurricanes. Truth be told, his defense let the Hurricanes skate past them at times and have open opportunities to score in the third period.
For Mrazek and Lehner to be in this position at the ripe age of 27, there’s something to be said about perseverance and patience. After struggling for years, they never gave up. They kept at it and figured it out. Sometimes it takes a long time for these goaltenders to figure it out in a world where sports fans and even teams want production right now.
It just could be players need to move on to their third stops for them to finally fulfill their potential. Mrazek and Lehner proved to be the case. The Hurricanes goaltender toiled for the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, and the Islanders goaltender spent time with the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres.
Mrazek actually became the starting goaltender late in the season for the Hurricanes, and his play was why the Hurricanes made a strong push to get a playoff spot.
Lehner and Thomas Greiss shared goaltending duties for the Islanders this season. Both played well to start in the playoffs. Islanders coach Barry Trotz went with his gut and started Lehner based on how well he did against the Penguins in the regular season, and right now, the rest is history. Of course, Trotz can go back to Greiss for a spark if Lehner struggles all of a sudden, but it’s hard to believe that is going to happen.
This series between the Islanders and Hurricanes billed up to be about which defense will bend but not break. Both teams use defense as its trademark identity to win games. But in this series, it could be the goaltenders that become the story.
Game 1 certainly played out that way in both cases. Lehner and Mrazek gave away nothing, and they allowed few favorable rebounds. The Hurricanes and Islanders defense bended at times, but in the end, the Islanders defense broke in overtime, and to be honest, in the third period when the Hurricanes hit open shots.
The Hurricanes served notice to the Islanders they will be a team to reckon with in the second round. It starts with their defense, and it ends with Mrazek. It’s the same recipe the Islanders use to win games with defense and timely goaltending.
On this night, both goaltenders played to a draw.
Mrazak took the win while Lehner settled for a pat in the head in a loss.
Those two goaltenders serve as a backdrop of what should be a great series.