It is not that the series has distinctly portrayed “good Frederick Andersen” and “bad Frederik Andersen,” but there have been two telling snapshots of the Maple Leafs goaltender.
One is Andersen waving a magnetic glove through the air, snatching goals away from the Capitals and giving the Maple Leafs every chance to win these tight, often high-scoring games. The other is Andersen letting the puck fly by him, confused by its origin, and then later lamenting that he couldn’t do more to help his team.
With the series tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Friday night, whichever Andersen emerges will have a major bearing on where the momentum swings next. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has been similarly mercurial, and a rise in offensive production can be seen in the final scores of each contest: 3-2 Capitals in Game 1, 4-3 Maple Leafs in Game 2, 4-3 Maple Leafs in Game 3 and 5-4 Capitals in Game 4.
The 27-year-old Andersen allowed 2.67 goals per game this season, and 2.33 throughout his career. Now he is trying to progress to that mean, or give the Maple Leafs an even bigger lift by dipping below it.
“Well, I think he’s a good goaltender so I think that’s the biggest thing right there,” Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock said of Andersen’s ability to rebound from shaky performances. “When you’re a good goaltender and you’ve got confidence in yourself, you’ve got a foundation built there to go back to.”
In this series, that foundation was poured in Game 2.
Andersen made 47 saves across 91 minutes and 53 seconds, which helped inch the Maple Leafs past the Capitals in double overtime. It was the third time in 32 playoff appearances he had to make more than 40 saves, and did so by bouncing from post to post, twisting his body to fill the goal and, most notably, fishing pucks out of the air with his glove.
When Kasperi Kapanen scored the game-winner, Andersen stumbled out of the net with his blocker raised in the air.
“Freddy makes it easy,” defenseman Jake Gardiner said of Andersen after Game 2. “He was by far our best player tonight. When a goalie gets hot like that, it makes it easier for us.”
That made Game 4 stand out for the wrong reasons. Andersen allowed five goals on 27 shots, and it would have been six if Nicklas Backstrom had not been the victim of a questionable goalie interference call in the third period. T.J. Oshie scored after Andersen allowed a rebound, Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play, Tom Wilson scored twice (tipping in a Lars Eller shot and beating Andersen on a two-on-one rush), and then Oshie beat him glove side to seal the game.
It wasn’t all Andersen’s fault, but the sum of Washington’s offensive production was too much to overcome. This game ended with Andersen sitting on the bench while the Maple Leafs fought for a second six-on-five goal that never came.
“I mean, not the best,” Andersen said of his performance after Game 4. “I wish I could help the team out a little bit more, coming up bigger when [the Capitals] had their chances.”
On Friday, Andersen was on the Verizon Center ice before all of the arena’s lights came on. He smacked pucks from end-to-end, faced odd-angle shots from an assistant coach and even fired one-time slap shots into an empty net.
Soon the morning skate started and his teammates tested him all kinds of ways. Some shots trickled through. Most were tossed aside. After he made a lunging glove save he pounded his blocker against the ice, calling attention to what could give the Maple Leafs their best chance of upsetting the top-seeded Capitals.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go your way — that’s life — over an 82-game spread the things settle out,” Babcock said of Andersen. “In the playoffs, you don’t have as much time for them to settle out. You’ve got to be good every night and you’ve got to dig in.”