2021 NHL Playoffs: Power ranking all 16 starting goalies before first round

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Power ranking all 16 No. 1 goalies entering Stanley Cup Playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

One of the best parts about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the unpredictability of the tournament, and goaltending is a huge part of that excitement.

Goaltending often makes or breaks a team's chances of going on a deep postseason run. It's also a place where younger players can become breakout stars. We've seen lots of rookie or inexperienced netminders carry teams to the Stanley Cup Final and even win it. 

Just two years ago, a 26-year-old Jordan Binnington with zero postseason experience helped lead the St. Louis Blues to their first Stanley Cup title in team history with a Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins.

Bruins vs. Capitals first-round playoff preview, prediction

Which teams have the best starting goalies entering the 2021 playoffs? Here's our power rankings of all 16 No. 1 goaltenders.

16. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins

2020-21 Stats: 25-9-3, 2.75 GAA, .909 SV%

Jarry posted a worse GAA and save percentage in 2021 than he did in 2020. He also has just one game of playoff experience. The Islanders have a clear advantage over the Penguins in net entering their first-round series.

15. Vitek Vanecek, Washington Capitals

2020-21 Stats: 21-10-4, 2.69 GAA, .908 SV%

Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette indicated Thursday he has no plans to announce a starting goalie for Game 1 against the Bruins on Saturday night. Vanecek is likely the best option for the Caps, and quite frankly, he's earned it. However, he struggled against the Bruins this season with a 2.86 GAA and .904 save percentage in seven games.

Vanecek also has zero playoff experience. We still don't know how he'll handle the increased pressure and expectations. He needs to be awesome for Washington to beat a Boston team that had the best record (12-4-1) post-trade deadline.

14. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

2020-21 Stats: 19-8-2, 2.91 GAA, .906 SV%

Bobrovsky has been a really good regular season goalie throughout his career -- including two Vezina Trophy wins -- but the playoffs have been a far different story. His .902 career playoff save percentage is a bit disappointing, and only once (2018-19 with Columbus) has he led his team past the first round. The Panthers had a great season, but their severe disadvantage in net against the Lightning in Round 1 is a huge concern. 

13. Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild

2020-21 Stats: 19-8-5, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV%

Talbot was pretty good in his last two playoff runs, posting a .924 save percentage in the 2016-17 Oilers playoff run and last year's Flames playoff run. 

That said, he played poorly against the Golden Knights this season, posting a 3.26 GAA and a .898 save percentage. Talbot needs to give an all-world performance for the Wild to upset a  Vegas team that legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. 

12. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

2020-21 Stats: 12-7-5, 2.64 GAA, .901 SV%

Price has enjoyed a fantastic career, but this season has been a real struggle for him due to injury and poor performance. A concussion has kept him out of Montreal's lineup since April 19.

The Canadiens ranked 17th in goals scored per game this season, while their Round 1 opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, ranked sixth. Leafs center Auston Matthews led the league with 40 goals. Montreal isn't built to outscore Toronto in a playoff series. The Canadiens' best hope for an upset is Price dominating. The chances of that scenario unfolding are unlikely, but he does have plenty of experience in high-pressure games.

11. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

2020-21 Stats: 17-14-8, 2.64 GAA, .911 SV%

Binnington was kind of average for the first two months of the season, but he stepped up his game during March and April with a .923 save percentage over that span. His uptick in performance was a major catalyst in St. Louis holding off the Arizona Coyotes for the final playoff spot in the West Division.

Binnington is still a bit of an unknown despite leading the Blues to a championship in 2019. He posted a .914 save percentage in that playoff run, which was good but not great. Binnington was absolutely awful in the first round of last year's playoffs -- giving up 13 goals with a .800 save percentage in three games against the Canucks. St. Louis lost the series in six games. Binnington's save percentage in the regular season has also decreased in each of the two years since the 2019 title run.

The Blues ranked 24th in 5-on-5 goals during the regular season. They also had a minus-8 goal differential at 5-on-5. Binnington needs a to give St. Louis consistently stellar play in Round 1 or the Avalanche will make quick work of the Blues.

10. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

2020-21 Stats: 6-2-3, 2.06 GAA, .923 SV%

Mrazek only played 12 games this season, but he has the most playoff experience among the 'Canes goalies and deserves to start Game 1 against Nashville. 

We don't know which Mrazek will get in the postseason, though. Will it be the 2018-19 Mrazek that posted a .894 save percentage in 11 games? What about last year's Mrazek who tallied a .929 save percentage in a losing effort against the Bruins?

Luckily for Mrazek, the Hurricanes do a pretty good job in front of him and their other goalies. They ranked in the top 11 of shot attempts allowed, shots on net allowed and scoring chances allowed at 5-on-5. They also allowed the second-fewest 5-on-5 goals.

The Hurricanes are a really good team, but it's still tough to trust their goaltending. This position likely will make or break their chances of winning a couple rounds.

9. Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs

2020-21 Stats: 17-2-2, 2.11 GAA, .923 SV%

Campbell stepped into the Toronto net amid Frederik Andersen's injury problems and played exceptionally. The concern is Campbell's inexperience. He's never appeared in a playoff game, and there's a ton of pressure on the Leafs to not only win their first playoff series since 2004, but also make a title run.

8. Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers

2020-21 Stats: 21-6-2, 2.31 GAA, .923 SV%

Smith had a sneaky good season for Edmonton. The 39-year-old netminder posted his best goals against average and save percentage since the 2011-12 campaign, which is when he helped lead the Coyotes to their first Western Conference Final.

Despite being in the league for 12 years, Smith has only played 25 games in the postseason. However, he's posted a .934 save percentage in those games.

7. Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche

2020-21 Stats: 30-9-1, 1.95 GAA, .922 SV%

Goaltending has been a weakness for the Avalanche in recent playoff runs, but Grubauer was awesome this season and should give Colorado fans a little more confidence in the team's situation between the pipes.

And unlike the other top contenders, the Avs don't need Grubauer to play at an elite level for his team to advance to the Cup Final. Colorado ranked No. 2 in 5-on-5 goals thanks to a very deep forward group. They also gave up the fewest shots on net and scoring chances of any team during 5-on-5. 

When Grubauer did have to face Grade A scoring chances at 5-on-5, he posted an impressive .839 high-danger save percentage.

The Avalanche are a well-balanced team, and as long as Grubauer is good-to-very good, it would be surprising if Colorado doesn't at least make the semifinal round.

6. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

2020-21 Stats: 21-11-1, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV%

The Predators were destined for a fairly high lottery pick most of the season until Saros rescued them. He was tremendous late in the year, posting a .930 save percentage from April 1 to the end of the regular season. Saros also posted the best 5-on-5 save percentage (.945) and third best high-danger save percentage (.868) of any goalie with 750-plus minutes played.

The Hurricanes are favored to beat the Predators in the first round, and deservedly so, but Saros does have the potential to steal a series. 

5. Connor Hellebucyk, Winnipeg Jets

2020-21 Stats: 23-17-3, 2.60 GAA, .915 SV%

Hellebucyk won the Vezina Trophy in 2020, and even though his performance took a small step back in 2021, he's still one of the most talented goalies in the playoffs. He hasn't yet dominated in limited playoff action, though, and his postseason save percentage has decreased in each of his last two appearances. 

With a blue line that's weaker than most of the other top contenders, Winnipeg will need Hellebucyk to stand on his head throughout the playoffs to make a deep run.

4. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

2020-21 Stats: 19-11-4, 2.04 GAA, .929 SV%

Varlamov was excellent for the Islanders in the regular season. He helped lead the Islanders to the Eastern Conference Final a year ago, and New York will need him to be stellar over the next few months for the team to reach that point again. Why is that? Well, the Islanders really struggled offensively late in the season and ranked 29th in 5-on-5 goals after the trade deadline. New York isn't built to win high-scoring games right now, and that could be a problem against Pittsburgh.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

2020-21 Stats: 15-5-2, 2.28 GAA, .913 SV%

Contrary to what many Bruins fans (and even some media members) believe, Rask has been an excellent playoff goalie. His .926 career playoff save percentage is the fourth-best among active netminders with at least 20 games played. He's also had some dominant series, including Eastern Conference Final sweeps of the Penguins in 2013 and Hurricanes in 2019. If the Bruins had won Game 7 of the 2019 Cup Final, Rask would almost certainly have a Conn Smythe Trophy.

The concern with Rask in 2021 is health. He was limited to just 32 starts because of injury. 

However, he played quite well to close the regular season. After returning to the Boston net on April 15, Rask posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.02 GAA over his next nine appearances.

No goalie in the playoffs has more at stake than Rask. He's already the best goalie in Bruins history from a statistical perspective, but a championship would elevate him to legendary status.

Bruins reveal which goalie will back up Tuukka Rask in Round 1

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

2020-21 Stats: 26-10-0, 1.98 GAA, .928 SV% 

Fleury is 36 years old and still one of the best goalies in the world. He set career highs in both save percentage and goals against average this season, helping lead the Golden Knights to second place in the West Division.

His playoff credentials also are impressive. He's been to three Stanley Cup Finals, most recently in 2017-18 with Vegas in its expansion season. Fleury also made back-to-back Cup Final appearances in 2008 and 2009 with the Penguins. Pittsburgh won in 2009.

Fleury's 146 games of postseason experience is the most of any starting goalie in the 2021 playoffs by a wide margin.

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

2020-21 Stats: 31-10-1, 2.21 GAA, .925 SV%

Vasilevskiy had another Vezina-caliber season and has a proven track record of playoff success, especially after winning a Stanley Cup last year. He also tallied the second-best high-danger save percentage (.875) during the regular season and made the second-most saves (909) at 5-on-5 overall. 

A lot is made of the Lightning's loaded forward group and deep blue line -- and those two units are fantastic --  but Vasilevskiy is arguably the team's best player.

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