Four times backup goaltenders played crucial roles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
4 hours ago
The NHL playoffs are always a war of attrition. Injuries are bound to happen over a grueling 16 to 28 game stretch over two months, so what heroes will rise to the challenge when a crucial player is forced to take a seat?
For the Canucks, they already need that hero to be Casey DeSmith. With Thatcher Demko hurt and potentially done for the remainder of the playoffs, it’ll be up to DeSmith (or perhaps Arturs Silovs) to fill those big goalie skates long enough for Demko to attempt a comeback.
You might think that having to rely on a backup goaltender is an automatic death sentence in the playoffs, but that’s not always the case. In fact, some backups have played pretty crucial roles in their team’s spring success stories. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

1991 – Frank Pietrangelo (PIT)

When Penguins starter Tom Barrasso got hurt during their first round series against the Devils, it forced the Pens to let Frank Pietrangelo try and lead them back from a 3-2 series deficit in Game 6.
What they got was ‘The Save’.

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Pietrangelo’s highway robbery on Peter Stastny fueled the Pens to a 4-3 road win in New Jersey, sending the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 7. Pietrangelo would stop all 27 Devils shots he faced for a series-winning 4-0 shutout, giving Barrasso just enough time to return to full health before the next round.
Pietrangelo’s reward for his first round heroics? One month later, his Penguins were Stanley Cup champions.

2010 – Michael Leighton (PHI)

Michael Leighton was never supposed to be the Flyers starting goaltender. But somehow midway through the 2010 playoffs, he got a promotion.
The Flyers had entered 2009-10 with a platoon of Ray Emery and Brian Boucher, but injuries forced Philly to claim Leighton off waivers from the Hurricanes in mid-December. That started a game of musical goaltenders until Emery’s season was ended by a hip disorder, giving Leighton the backup spot for good.
In the playoffs, Boucher carried the Flyers through Round 1 and the first four games of Round 2 against the Bruins, before an injury knocked him out of Game 5 and brought Leighton back into the spotlight. Leighton would not only complete the 4-0 shutout that Boucher had started, but also the Flyers’ miraculous comeback from a 3-0 series deficit, the first team since the 1975 Islanders to do so.

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Leighton then carried the Flyers past the Canadiens in five games en route to the Stanley Cup Final. Philly’s run would end just two games short of a championship, with Leighton in net for Patrick Kane’s infamous OT winner.

2016 – Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff (PIT)

In 2015-16, Marc-Andre Fleury had started 58 games for the Penguins until a concussion ended his regular season and put him out of commission for the majority of the playoffs. That meant the Penguins hopes of a championship would fall to two relative unknowns in net: backup Jeff Zatkoff and rookie Matt Murray.
In their playoff opener against the Rangers, Zatkoff made 35 saves to give the Pens a 5-2 victory and his first ever playoff win. But after Zatkoff struggled in a Game 2 loss, coach Mike Sullivan decided to hand the keys to Murray, who had just 13 games of NHL experience up to that point.
Murray went on to play 21 postseason games, posting a record of 15-6, a .923 save percentage, and becoming Pittsburgh’s de facto starter even after Fleury returned during their conference final series with the Lightning.

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Murray and the Penguins would win their first of two straight Stanley Cups, but that opening round against the Rangers holds a special distinction: the first playoff series in NHL history where two goalies won their playoff debuts for the same team.

2023 – Adin Hill (VGK)

You probably already forgot that Adin Hill wasn’t the Golden Knights’ planned starting goaltender going into last year’s playoffs. In fact, you probably don’t even remember which of the Knights’ approximately 25 different netminders were supposed to be one and two on the depth chart heading into 2022-23 (Answer: it was Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit).
Instead, Vegas survived off a four man rotation of Hill, Thompson, Brossoit and trade deadline pickup Jonathan Quick, as injuries took out three of the four for various periods of time. When the postseason kicked off Hill was the backup, until an injury to Brossoit during Game 3 of their second round matchup with the Edmonton Oilers required Hill to step in.

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Hill would go on to play the remainder of the playoffs, backstopping Vegas past the Oilers, Stars and Panthers to capture the Golden Knights first ever Stanley Cup in just their sixth season of existence. Ironically, despite the championship Hill has started this year’s postseason as the backup once again, only this time to Thompson.

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