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The NHL has seen many inexperienced goalies take their team on a run

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Photo credit:Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
1 month ago
It’s not unfair to say that netminders can sometimes carry a team to a Stanley Cup. Other times, a netminder can sink great teams from obtaining the ultimate goal
More often than not, Stanley Cup Champions are led by goaltenders who are known commodities, ones who have plenty of experience playing in big games and find themselves getting votes for the Vezina Trophy come summer.
However, there are numerous examples of inexperienced post-season goaltenders leading their team on a deep run. Let’s go through some memorable examples of goaltenders who came out of nowhere and took control of the net when it mattered most. 

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Jean-Sébastien Giguère

Drafted 13th overall in the 1995 draft by the Hartford Whalers, Jean-Sébastien Giguère bounced around a couple of teams before finding a home in Anaheim with the Mighty Ducks. Becoming their starter in the 2001-02 season, Giguère posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average in 53 games played.
The following season, the Ducks finished as the seventh seed and went all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley against the prime New Jersey Devils, who won the deciding game by a score of 3-0. Before this run, Giguère had no NHL playoff experience, but he’s one of five players to have won the Conn Smythe trophy without winning the Stanley Cup. It hasn’t been done since.
In the postseason, Giguère posted a .945 save percentage and a 1.62 goals-against average and went on to win a Cup with the Ducks in the 2007 postseason.

Cam Ward

This is a tough one for Oilers fans to remember, so we’ll breeze through it quickly. Cam Ward was a rookie in 2005-06 for the Carolina Hurricanes. He appeared in 28 games during the regular season as Martin Gerber’s backup and posted an .882 save percentage.
After the Canes went down 2-0 in their first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens, Ward came into the net in place of Gerber, who was dealing with an illness, and led Carolina to a six-game series win. He posted a .920 save percentage in 23 playoff games and the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.
Moving along!

Ray Emery

Ray Emery was selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft. He played six games with the Ottawa Senators in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons before becoming the team’s backup to Dominik Hasek in 2005-06. That season, he appeared in 10 playoff games, posting a .900 save percentage and a 2.88 goals-against average.
The following season, Emery was the team’s starter and helped lead the Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Senators tore through the Eastern Conference, winning each of the three rounds in five games. However, the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Senators in five games to capture their first and only Stanley Cup.
Still, it was an impressive postseason for a fairly inexperienced netminder, as the 24-year-old posted a .907 save percentage and a 2.26 goals-against average. Rest in peace, Ray Emery.

Antti Niemi

Finnish netminder Antti Niemi went undrafted but eventually appeared in three games during the 2008-09 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. The following season, Niemi earned the role as the backup netminder for the team and became the starter in the 2010 postseason.
That was the same year the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years, and the 26-year-old netminder had a .910 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average in 22 games played that season.
Afterwards, he went to San Jose Sharks, missing out on the dynasty that was the early 10’s Chicago Blackhawks. He appeared in 40 postseason games with the San Jose Sharks across four seasons.

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Jaroslav Halák

The 2010 postseason was the year of the inexperienced netminder leading their team to a deep postseason run. No one expected much from the eighth-seed Montréal Canadiens, but after overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, there was belief in the team.
Jaroslav Hálak, selected in the ninth round of the 2003 draft, was a big reason for the impressive run, as they had a 53-save performance in Game 6 of that series. He finished the postseason with a .923 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average, with the Canadiens bowing out to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals. Speaking of which…

Michael Leighton

Selected in the sixth round of the 1999 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, Michael Leighton bounced around numerous teams, serving as the Blackhawk’s backup netminder before spending numerous seasons in the American Hockey League. He had a cup of coffee in 2008-09, playing 19 games with the Hurricanes, but ultimately found himself on the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10.
In 27 games with the Flyers, who were the seventh seed in the 2010 postseason (yes a seventh-seed played an eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference Finals), Leighton had a .918 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.
The netminder situation in Philadelphia was weird that season, as he, Emery, and Brian Boucher all suffered injuries at one point or another. However, Leighton came in relief for Boucher in Game 5 of the first round and finished the final two games with a win. In fact, this was one of just four reverse sweeps in NHL history.
Leighton would finish the postseason with a .916 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average in 14 games played, allowing just seven goals in the five-game series against the Montréal Canadiens. The Flyers would ultimately lose in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith was a 29-year-old journeyman in the 2010-11 season. He had played for three teams before being selected in the fifth round by the Dallas Stars in 2001. Starting his NHL career in the 2006-07 season, he eventually became a 1B-type with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008-09 before finding himself as the Phoenix Coyotes’ starter in 2011-12.
Playing 67 games that season, Mike Smith posted a .930 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against to finish fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. Playoff Mike Smith, as we know, is a totally different beast, as he posted an incredible .944 save percentage and a 1.99 goals-against average to help the Coyotes go to the Western Conference Finals, the best run the franchise would make in Arizona.

Ben Bishop

Long before Ben Bishop became a Vezina Trophy contender, he spent his career bouncing around a few teams, such as the St. Louis Blues (who drafted him in the third round of the 2005 draft) and Ottawa Senators, before finding himself on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Becoming the starter for the Lightning in the 2013-14 season, Bishop posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average in 63 games, but it wasn’t until the next season that Bishop made his playoff debut.
In the 2015 playoffs, Bishop started a league-leading 25 games, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.18 goals-against average. He led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
It wasn’t Bishop’s only Stanley Cup Final appearance, but he was the backup in that run. More on that later.

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Andrew Hammond

This is a bit of a different one, but I feel like I must include it because the Ottawa Senators wouldn’t have made a playoff run without Andrew Hammond, an undrafted netminder.
On February 14, 2015, the Ottawa Senators sat nine points out of a postseason position, needing to jump three teams if they had any hopes of making the playoffs. Robin Lehner recently went down with an injury, prompting the inexperienced Hammond to start February 18’s game against the Montréal Canadiens.
Over their final 28 games, the Senators went an incredible 21-4-3 to finish in the first Wild Card spot, spearheaded by Hammond’s ridiculous .941 save percentage, 1.79 goals-against average, and 20-1-2 record in 24 games.
As an Ottawa native, the “Hamburglar” was all anyone in the city talked about. I genuinely despise the Ottawa Senators with a passion, but I have shivers writing about this. That’s how surreal this run was.
This differs from other netminders in this article because Hammond only appeared in two postseason games in the 2015 postseason and only five career postseason games. But you know when a netminder with just 24 games played finishes seventh in Vezina Trophy voting, he has to be included in this list.
Hammond 2.0 will be covered later in this article.

Martin Jones

Undrafted Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick’s backup netminder during the Los Angeles Kings’ 2014 postseason run. He eventually earned a starting role with the San Jose Sharks in 2015-16, where he posted a .918 save percentage and a 2.27 goals-against in 67 games played.
Jones had seen postseason action before, playing in two games en route to the Stanley Cup in 2014, but this was his first run as a starter. Well, the inexperienced netminder helped lead the San Jose Sharks to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, where he posted a .923 save percentage and a 2.16 goals-against average in 24 games played.
San Jose bowed out to the Pittsburgh Penguins (we’ll get to their starter) in six games, coming up short of winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Matt Murray

Employed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2015-16 season was surefire Hall of Famer, Marc-André Fleury. Backup netminder Matt Murray had a successful season, with a .930 save percentage and a 2 goals-against average in 13 games. Fleury missed the first two series with post-concussion syndrome, and after two starts in round one from Tristian Jarry, the Penguins turned to Murray.
After just 13 NHL games, Murray played 21 games, all starts, in which he had a .923 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average. He led Sidney Crosby and the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup since the 2009 postseason.
Interestingly, the reverse happened the following season when the Penguins went back-to-back. Murray was injured in warmups of Game 1 of the first round, leading to Fleury filling in. That postseason, Fleury posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average but was pulled after a rough Game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators. Afterwards, Murray posted a .937 save percentage and a 1.70 goals-against average in the 11 games he played.

Jordan Binnginton

It’s Andrew Hammond 2.0 time. But, this time, the netminder led the team to a Stanley Cup this time. Let me take you back in time, it’s January 2, 2019, and the St. Louis Blues have a 15-18-4 record for 34 points, the worst in the league.
Netminder Jordan Binnington had played one National Hockey League game all the way back in 2015-16 after the Blues selected him in the 2011 draft with the 88th overall pick. Up to this point, Binnington had only played in three games, all in relief. The Blues split their next two games before turning to Binnginton for his first start on January 7, 2019.
The rest of the season saw the Blues finish with a 30-10-4 record, with Binnington himself posting a 24-5-1 record, along with a .927 save percentage and a 1.89 goals-against average. However, the Gloria party didn’t stop in the regular season, as the Blues went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games to capture their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Binnington’s play regressed in the postseason, posting a .914 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average in 26 games played, where he had a 16-10 record. However, the Blues wouldn’t have even had an opportunity for a postseason run if not for Binnington’s play in the regular season.

Anton Khudobin

In the 2019-20 season, Anton Khudobin was a well-established backup netminder, playing for teams like the Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins (twice), Carolina Hurricanes, and Anaheim Ducks before landing with the Dallas Stars in the 2018-19 season. That season, he appeared in a career-high 41 games, starting in a career-high 37 games, and had a .923 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average.
The following season, the cursed 2019-20 season, Khudobin posted a .930 save percentage and a 2.22 goals-against average in 30 games (26 starts), with a 16-8-4 record. As you know, the league shut down in mid-March due to a pandemic and later resumed in the summer.
Ben Bishop (remember I said we’d discuss him again?) was injured in Game Three of the playoffs, leading to the Stars needing to use Khudobin for the rest of the run. And oh boy, did the change work out, as Khudobin posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.69 goals-against average in 25 games to help lead the Stars to the Stanley Cup Finals.
On the back of a 33-year-old netminder, the Stars would eventually lose in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but for an experienced backup netminder with only two games played in the playoffs, this is a fairly impressive run.
Also, here’s a fun fact: The 2020 Dallas Stars played the most games of any team ever in the postseason, 27 games. That means that no team has ever played in four-game sevens during a postseason run. The Stars also had weird qualifying games, meaning the most game sevens played by a team is two, or 26 games, held by numerous teams.

Adin Hill

Another one that will sting Oiler fans. In the 2023 postseason, Vegas starter (and former Oiler) Laurent Brossoit allowed 10 goals on 63 shots for an .841 save percentage, but was injured early in Game 3 of the second round. 
The inexperienced Adin Hill stepped in for Brossoit, saving all the shots he faced en route to a Game 3 win. Hill had a hiccup in Game 4 where he had an .879 save percentage, but finished the final two games with a .914 save percentage and a .950 save percentage, helping the Golden Knights head to the Western Conference Finals.
In 16 games (14 starts), Hill had a league-leading .932 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average, first knocking off the Dallas Stars before defeating the Florida Panthers for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Not too shabby for a netminder who made just 101 starts before the 2023 postseason.

Calvin Pickard

This part is unwritten. Calvin Pickard is a 31-year-old netminder who spent exactly one season as a starter, playing in 50 games for the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche. He had a .904 save percentage and a 2.98 goals-against average.
Signed as a third netminder before the start of the 2022-23 season by the Oilers, Pickard backstopped Stuart Skinner throughout the 2023-24 season after an abysmal five starts from Jack Campbell. Pickard posted a .909 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average in 23 games and has a career .904 save percentage and a 2.92 goals-against average in 141 starts.
After Skinner put up a stinker of a game in Game 3, Pickard started the third period, saving the three shots he faced, before making his first postseason start in Game 4. Pickard saved 19 of 21 shots for a .905 save percentage with some key stops.
Is Calvin Pickard the next goaltender to be on this list? We’ll see, but the Edmonton Oilers really need him to be if they wish to contend for a Stanley Cup in 2024.

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