Who will be this year’s hot goalie?

Every team looking to win the Stanley Cup must win multiple best-of-seven series against a bunch of good teams. That’s why having a “hot goalie” helps. After all, defense wins championships, and in the NHL defense starts with the goaltender.

Historically, the Cup-winning netminder has posted a playoff save percentage higher than the league’s regular-season average. Since 1988, just two goaltenders, Marc-Andre Fleury of Pittsburgh and Antti Niemi of Chicago, have been below the league average in terms of stopping pucks during their postseason run. Over the past three seasons, the last team standing has been supported by at least a 0.932 save percentage (Corey Crawford), with Tim Thomas (0.940 save percentage) and Johnathan Quick  (0.946 save percentage) well above that.

So let’s say a goaltender who posts better than a 0.930 save percentage over 600 shots can be considered a “hot goalie,” which of this season’s netminders have the best chance to do it?

Based on his regular-season performance, Tukka Rask of Boston, who posted a save percentage of .929 this season, has a 50-50 chance staying hot and backstopping the Bruins to the Cup finals. His 35-15-6 record likely earns him the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goaltender, with a good chance to add a Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Semyon Varlamov, another probable Vezina finalist, has a 43 percent chance at being the hot goalie Colorado will need to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But Montreal’s Carey Price has more than a one-in-three chance of pushing the Habs through to the Finals, making the Canadiens an interesting dark horse to emerge out of the Eastern Conference.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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