There is no distinct definition for the term “stealing a series” in NHL lingo. Only vague descriptions classify the phrase.
“It means that the goalie is so way better than the other goalie,” Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn said.
This could be a fundamental storyline for Nashville’s first round playoff series against Anaheim, which starts today. Judging by statistics this season, Pekka Rinne is so way better than the Ducks’ goaltenders.
But does having a thoroughbred goaltender such as Rinne always denote playoff success? Or does having a high-powered offense and decent goaltender mean a deeper postseason run?
The Predators obviously prefer the former.
“We don’t rack up six or seven goals a night,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We try to get around that three mark, and obviously goaltending is a big part of not giving them four.”
The formula used to be simple in the NHL. Defense and goaltending won championships. In the 10 years before the lockout, big names dominated the goaltending championship landscape.
Hall of Famer Patrick Roy won two with Colorado. All-time wins leader Martin Brodeur won three with New Jersey. Two-time Hart Trophy winner Dominik Hasek won a Stanley Cup with Detroit. Ed Belfour, who ranks third in all-time wins, won a Stanley Cup with Dallas.
But a year ago the paradigm shifted. The Chicago Blackhawks — behind first-year goaltender Antti Niemi — won the Stanley Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers. His counterpart in the final: journeyman Michael Leighton, who had never started more than 34 games in a regular season.
The Predators opted not to re-sign probable Anaheim starter Dan Ellis a year ago to make room for Rinne. Ray Emery, Anaheim’s other possible starter, is coming back from a degenerative hip condition. All-Star Jonas Hiller has vertigo and probably won’t play.
While Rinne played well enough to be a strong contender for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender, the Predators monitored his workload all season to make sure he is primed for this series and these playoffs. He played 64 games, ninth-most amongst goaltenders.
Korn thinks that stealing a series has as much to do with preparation as it does execution by the goaltender:
“We wanted to manage his ice so he would be ready for this moment and not empty for this moment.”