By Jack Gotsell | follow me on twitter @jackgotsell
As the Bruins enter the round-robin, I take a look at the goalies from the Flyers, Lightning, and Capitals. These are the men in the net that stand in the way of the Bruins and their quest to claim the number one seed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Carter Hart/ Brian Elliott
The Boston Bruins will start their round-robin round off when they face the Philadelphia Flyers August 2nd at 3:00 pm. The guy who is likely to tend the goal for the Flyers is young 21-year-old goaltender Carter Hart. Hart was drafted 48th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft. Carter Hart is young, but he’s already got a ton of experience under his belt. At just 16, he played 30 games for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL). In those 30 games, he went 18-5-5 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average, excellent stats for a backstop who wasn’t old enough to get his driver’s license.
The Flyers are in this round-robin due to Hart’s spectacular sophomore season performance. Hart made the start in net in 40 Flyers games this season. He went 24-13-3 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.42 goals-against average. He looks to pick up where he left off when he faces the Bruins for the Flyer’s first game in the round-robin. Carter has said that he did not have access to the ice during the break; however, he was one of the first players back for the Flyers and has been skating for over a month now. This will be Hart’s first taste of NHL playoff hockey, but not his first time playing on a big stage. He has played in both a World Junior Championships and a Western Hockey League final.
In Hart’s last stint between in the pipes, he was matched up against the Bruins on March 10th. During that performance he stopped 27 of 29 pucks. It was a tightly contested game, and the Bruins did not beat Hart easily. The B’s first goal came from a Matt Grzelcyk shot from the point that was not seen by Hart thanks to screens from Bruins forwards Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk. The second goal in the Bruin’s 2-0 victory zoomed in from a shot just inside the blue line by Patrice Bergeron that ramped off the stick of Flyers defenseman Travis Sandheim. The Bruins were unable to score against Hart without a screen or a tip. This was not due to a lack of chances. Hart stood on his head, stopping Richard Trophy winner David Pastrnak on multiple scoring chances throughout the contest.
The Bruins will need to get traffic in front of the young net-minder if they hope to have success against him again. However, with the firepower the Bruins have on the first line, a big performance from Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak could get the job done. I expect to see Hart in the net when the Bruins face-off, but their back up goalie is the very capable veteran, Brian Elliott. It seems teams will play more of their players in the round-robin, unlike a traditional playoff series, so an Elliot start, though unlikely, is not out of the question. Of note, Carter Hart left the ice during the first period of Tuesday’s scrimmage with an injury. What we do know is that whoever is in the Flyer’s crease come August 2nd, they will be a formidable opponent.
As we move beyond that first puck drop, we look to Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy might be the best goalie the Bruins face in their round-robin. He, much like Tuukka Rask, is coming off a season where he was nominated as a Vezina Trophy finalist. Vasilevskiy started 52 games for the Lightning this season and went 35-14-3 with a .917 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average.
Vasilevskiy lost his last start on March 10th versus the Toronto Maple Leafs but won his start the game before against the Boston Bruins on March 7th. Against the Bruins, he saved 35 of 38 shots. Vasilevskiy looked in peak form in this contest, and so did the Bruins power-play. He was able to match the intensity of the Bruins power play and come up with some big saves to keep the B’S off the scoreboard. It wasn’t until the Bruins were in a 3-0 hole, that they finally cracked Vasilevskiy with a Charlie McAvoy top right corner snipe from inside the slot. After Charlie’s tally, the Bruins were able to take over momentum and dominate play.
Vasilevskiy went on to stand on his head, taking back the momentum until he lost control of the puck, and Kuraly was able to slam it home. Tampa scored again in the 3rd period to make it 4-2 before the Bruins power-play finally struck on a Pastrnak shot through a DeBrusk screen to bring the Bruins within one. Finally, Vasilevskiy was able to seal the game with a big breakaway save on Pastrnak’s game-tying chance.
Vasileveskiy is a tough goalie to beat, but Tampa’s defense allows more goal-scoring opportunities than coach Jon Cooper would like to see. The Bruins will need to capitalize on some of those chances and take advantage of their time on the power play to beat the 6’2″ confident backstop. The Bruins must limit any risky passes or rushes on the power play as last time the two faced off, two early shorties by Tampa, proved to be too big of a hole for the Bruins to dig out of. With Vasilevskiy in goal, the Bruins certainly need their scorers to step up and their special teams to play well to come away with a win.
Branden Holtby/ Ilya Samsonov
Over the past several seasons, Braden Holtby has had the Bruin’s number. However, there is competition among the net-minders in Washington. Ilya Samsonov has played fewer games this season, but the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NHL entry draft has had the better numbers when he’s played. Samsonov has started 22 games this season for the Capitals and played in 26. His record is 16-6-2 with a .913 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average versus the 25-14-6 with a .897 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average that Braden Holtby carries into this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Todd Reirden has a real goaltending dilemma. Should he go with the rookie’s impressive stats this season, or should he go with the veteran’s Stanley Cup champion experience paired with his history of shutting down the Bruins in big games? It will be a difficult decision for Washington’s new bench boss in the game against Boston and moving forward in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite who he chooses as his starter, performance might dictate who holds the job moving forward as the playoffs progress. The expectation is that Holtby will be Washington’s guy for at least the beginning of the round-robin and playoffs, but with Samsonov having a fantastic rookie season, Holtby’s leash could be short.
The Bruins have not seen the Capitals since December 23rd but, when they did, they saw both goalies. The Bruins were able to beat Holtby four times. First was a rebound goal from DeBrusk down low that beat Holtby underneath his pad. The next goal was scored in a similar fashion as Brad Marchand ended his cold streak at the time when he slammed home another rebound to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Anders Bjork then got on the scoreboard 27 seconds later with a rocket shot from the slot that Holtby was able to get a big piece of but unable to stop.
Bergeron ended Holtby’s night early, tipping a puck nearside on Holtby that the goaltender wished he could have back. Samsonov came into the game with a minute left in the first period and was able to slow the bleeding, but could not completely stop it. With 13:05 to go in the second period, Charlie Coyle got a shorthanded breakaway and was able to beat Samsonov with a nice move. Samsonov did not allow another goal for the rest of the game, but the Bruins were able to score a couple of empty-net goals. A sight that Bruins fans hope to see repeated August 9th when they face the Capitals again in the round-robin.
The Bruins certainly have some tough goaltenders to contend with in this round-robin series. With the numbers Tuukka Rask has put up this season, he is in the running for the Vezina Trophy and equal to the task. It is often said that a hot goaltender is needed to win the cup, and if Tuukka can pick up where he left off in March, the Bruins may have that covered.