By Jared Clinton
The question has been posed many times before: if you had to play one game and you had to pick any goaltender in the history of the league, who would you pick? The answers usually range from the greats of the past to the modern-day heroes, with most settling on the names Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek. Really, though, the answer should be Henrik Lundqvist.
After Wednesday night’s victory over the Washington Capitals, Lundqvist now has a career Game 7 record of 6-1 to go along with remarkable stats in those games. In Game 7s, Lundqvist’s goals-against average is 0.97 and save percentage is .962. That’s not to mention he has one shutout and has only allowed more than one goal against in a Game 7 once, and that was his only loss. Compared to the greats, Lundqvist is the most clutch Game 7 goaltender of all-time.
When it comes to breaking down who the top dogs are in the one-game, do-or-die scenarios, you need look no further than those numbers. Lundqvist is so far ahead of the other legendary netminders in NHL history that it’s almost not even a competition.
In their careers, Brodeur, Roy and Hasek played a combined 25 Game 7s. They posted a record of 13-12, allowed 52 goals against and there have been multiple games where the three legendary netminders allowed more than three goals against in the seventh game of a series. While no one will argue their body of work in the regular season or the fact that all three have Stanley Cup rings, when it comes to Game 7s, ‘King Henrik’ reigns supreme.
Looking at each goaltender specifically, you get an even better picture of how great Lundqvist’s Game 7 performances have been.
Over the course of his career, Brodeur played in 10 Game 7s. The first of his career, he made 17 stops in a victory over the Buffalo Sabres in 1993-94, but lost the next two before finally winning another in 1999-00. By the end of his career, he had a record of 6-4 in Game 7s and his stat line is impressive – .926 SP and 1.87 GAA – but not as much so as Lundqvist’s. And, for what it’s worth, Brodeur’s stats always have to be looked at with the era and Devils’ style of play in mind.
As for Roy, he began his career with one of the most storied runs by a rookie goaltender in NHL history. His play with the 1985-86 Canadiens in the post-season was remarkable – enough so to earn him the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He earned his first Game 7 victory that post-season, helping Montreal roll by the Hartford Whalers in the second round. Near the end of his career, from 2000-01 to 2001-02, Roy would help the Colorado Avalanche rattle off four straight Game 7 victories, but he would finish his career with a 6-6 record in seventh games.
His stat line is a bit more bloated than Lundqvist’s, however. His final Game 7 stat line* of 2.26 GAA and a .915 SP doesn’t look much like what you would expect of Roy, but it’s greatly inflated by the six goals on 16 shots he allowed in 26:28 of work against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Western Conference final in 2001-02.
Of all four goaltenders, no one played fewer Game 7s than Hasek, yet even the ‘Dominator’ doesn’t boast a great record in seventh games. He suited up for just three – the first in 1993-94 and last in 2001-02 – but came out on the winning side just once, his third Game 7, in which he posted a 19-save shutout against the Colorado Avalanche. His final Game 7 stat line is 1-2, 1.55 GAA and a .946 SP. Good, but not Lundqvist good.
There’s more to it than simply being better than the greats in Game 7s, but Lundqvist will now go down as the first goaltender to ever win six consecutive Game 7s and one of three to win six total (the others being Brodeur and Roy). There’s also the eerie distinction that Lundqvist owns May 13. On May 13 of 2013, 2014 and 2015, Lundqvist posted Game 7 victories, allowing one goal against and making 35 saves in the respective wins over Washington, Pittsburgh and Washington, again.
The debate about which goaltender to take in a one-off scenario will never end, but if Lundqvist’s name hasn’t already made its way into the mix, there’s no doubt it should be there now.