To celebrate the end of the 2010s, goalie journalist Mouhamad Rachini takes a look back at some of the top netminders to have kept the sheets clean this decade. To read the other pieces he has prepared for this project, click on this link.
5. Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins, Finland, 2010 – PRESENT)
Rask’s decade couldn’t have started any better. In 2009-10 — his first full NHL season (40+ appearances) — Rask posted a 22-12-5 record (wins-draws-losses) with five shutouts. He also recorded a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, despite being a rookie.
Rask would lose the number one spot to Tim Thomas for 2010-11 — the season in which the Bruins won the Stanley Cup — and 2011-12, but he regained it ahead of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. In that campaign, Rask went 19-10-5 with a 2.00 goals against average, a .927 save percentage, and five shutouts. He also backstopped the Bruins to within two wins of another Stanley Cup championship after posting a 1.88 goals against average and a .940 save percentage in the playoffs.
Since then, Rask won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender (2014) and made it to another Stanley Cup Final (2019). He’s also become the Bruins all-time leader in goalie appearances (517) and wins (265) while maintaining a sub-2.30 goals against average and .921 save percentage in the regular season. He’s also maintained a sub-2.20 goals against average and a .927 save percentage in the playoffs.
Surprisingly, Rask isn’t appreciated by all Bruins fans. According to some of the supporters I’ve talked to, Rask is a “love him or hate him” kind of guy in Boston; despite his achievements and solid playoff stats, his inability to win the team another Stanley Cup in the 2010s (despite backstopping them to two finals) has hurt his reputation among some fans, even if he wasn’t really at fault in those finals.
The fact that his predecessor, fan-favourite Tim Thomas, heroicly guided the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 also doesn’t help Rask’s cause.
But regardless of your feelings about Rask, there’s no denying his place in the pantheon of great Bruins goaltenders.
Top Moment: Four-game series vs. Pittsburgh, 2013 Eastern Conference Final.
Two seasons after winning the 2011 Stanley Cup as a backup, Tuukka Rask was carrying the Boston Bruins to within two games of their second championship in three years. Although they eventually lost the final to Chicago, Rask still had a memorable playoffs, going 14-8 (wins-losses) with a 1.88 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.
Rask’s best series was the 2013 Eastern Conference Final. In what is probably the decade’s greatest single series performance, Rask went 4-0-0 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins. He faced 136 total shots but only conceded two goals. He kept two shutouts, a goals against average of 0.50, and a save percentage of .985.
4. Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals, Canada, 2010 – PRESENT)
Braden Holtby’s reign as the Washington Capitals starting goalie began in the 2012 playoffs. After both Tomáš Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth went down with injuries, Holtby was called up to the Capitals from their AHL team. He started their opening two playoff games, stopping 72 of 74 shots.
Vokoun and Neuvirth returned for game three, but Capitals coach Dale Hunter — after starting Holtby for the third playoff game in a row — declared that Holtby’s “our goalie“.
Holtby went on to make 11 more playoff appearances for the Capitals that year, posting a 1.95 goals against average and a .935 save percentage before Washington were eliminated in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Since that moment, Holtby has been a mainstay in Washington’s goal. He won 23 games in each of his first two full NHL seasons before breaking the 40-win mark three seasons in a row between 2014 and 2017. This included a career-high 48-win season in 2015-16; a joint-NHL record for most wins in a season by a goalie (shared with 2006-07 Martin Brodeur, who played 12 more games than Holtby when he set the record).
The second half of the decade was particularly kind to Holtby. Between the 2015-16 and 2018-19 seasons, Holtby won 63.3% of his 297 appearances, including 16 playoff wins during Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship. He kept 20 shutouts in that span, including five in the playoffs. Holtby was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game in all four of those seasons, and he won the Vezina Trophy in 2016.
With the 30-year-old now in the final year of his contract, there’s been debate over whether to re-sign Holtby or let him go. The Capitals are yet to make a decision, and they don’t seem close to making one any time soon. But no matter their choice, it’s obvious Holtby deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Capitals legends.
Top Moment: Stick save vs. Vegas Golden Knights, Game 2 of 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
“Thank God he’s our goalie.”
That’s what Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin said of Braden Holtby following game two of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. The reason? Holtby had just pulled off the final’s greatest ever save.
Alex Tuch seemed to have scored the equalizer when he fired a one-timer at a gaping Washington goal late in game two. But Holtby desperately stuck his stick out. The shot hit Holtby’s paddle before he covered the puck with his blocker.
Nicknamed “The Save”, Holtby’s stop clinched the first of four straight Washington wins en route to the team’s first-ever Stanley Cup championship.
3. Sergei Bobrovsky (Philadelphia Flyers / Columbus Blue Jackets / Florida Panthers, Russia, 2010 – PRESENT)
In the summer of 2019, the Florida Panthers signed free agent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million (USD) contract. It’s one of the most expensive goalie contracts in NHL history, and it comes off of the back of a solid seven-season stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Hard to believe that just seven years ago, this same Bobrovsky — one who is considered by some to be the best goalie in the NHL today — was just a slumping backup being traded away from Philadelphia due to a subpar sophomore season.
It’s proof of how quickly things can change. In his first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets — the team that traded for him in 2012 — Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy. One year later, he backstopped the team to the first and second playoff wins in franchise history.
By the time Bobrovsky’s tenure with the Blue Jackets had ended in 2019, he had led them to their first-ever playoff series win (against the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, no less), had added another Vezina Trophy to his collection (the only goalie in the 2010s to win the award more than once), and had set Columbus single-season records in wins, goals against average, and save percentage.
Russia also benefitted from the services of the two-time NHL All-Star. In the 2014 World Championships, Bobrovsky posted a perfect 8-0-0 record, complete with a 1.13 goals against average and a .950 save percentage, as Russia captured the title. Russia also medalled in Bobrovsky’s other two World Championship appearances — silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016.
Known for his agility and ability to pull off absolutely jaw-dropping saves on a regular basis, Bobrovsky’s spot in the top three is definitely deserved.
Top Moment: 2012-2013 Vezina Trophy.
Following a disappointing playoffs in 2011 and a 2011-12 season backing countryman Ilya Bryzgalov, Sergei Bobrovsky joined the Columbus Blue Jackets via a trade from the Philadelphia Flyers ahead of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
That move was just the fresh start Bobrovsky needed. He posted career-best numbers in save percentage (.932) and goals against average (2.00) in 2012-13; both of which are also Columbus single-season records. He was awarded Stars of the Week honours three times and was named March 2013’s Third Star of the Month. Bobrovsky also won his first career Vezina Trophy, becoming the first Russian to win the award.
2. Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens, Canada, 2010 – PRESENT)
In the summer of 2010, the Montreal Canadiens had a decision to make. Both of their goaltenders — Carey Price and Jaroslav Halák — were restricted free agents, and the team was only going to re-sign one of them.
But who should they choose? Price was the younger option and was expected to develop into the better goalie, but he struggled in 2009-10. On the other hand, Halák had just backstopped Montreal to an improbable Eastern Conference Final appearance off of heroic performances vs. the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the end, the Canadiens re-signed Price and traded Halák away.
Did the Habs make the right choice? Judging by how high I’ve ranked Price on this list, they definitely did.
Despite representing a market that developed some of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history — Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, and many others — Price has been able to make a name for himself as the face of the franchise in the 2010s. He backstopped the Canadiens to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final and is one of the primary reasons why the team is considered to be a fringe Stanley Cup contender today.
Sure, Price is nowhere near the ranks of some of his predecessors. But the fact that Price is the Canadiens’ all-time leader in goalie appearances, wins, and save percentage, despite playing for sides that were often too over-reliant on him to succeed, is proof to both the trust he’s built within the organization and the lights-out performances he’s delivered on a regular basis.
Even in 2019 — a year after Price posted the worst goals against average, save percentage, and win totals of his career — the Vancouver-born goalie was voted by NHL players as the league’s top goaltender. That’s a testament to just how good Price is.
Top Moment: A 2014-15 season chock-full of individual awards.
Following a season that saw him backstop the Montreal Canadiens to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final, Price decided that it wasn’t enough for him to be the NHL’s top goalie in 2014-15; he also wanted to be it’s best player. Along with the Vezina Trophy, Price was awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, and the Hart Memorial Trophy. He also won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s Top Athlete.
It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve those awards either. That season, Price posted career highs in wins (44), goals against average (1.96), and shutouts (9); all league-highs among goalies with 40+ appearances.
1. Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers, Sweden, 2010 – PRESENT)
Since making his NHL debut on October 8, 2005, Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in NHL history. His combination of longevity and excellence in net earned him plaudits from both teammates and opponents, and it’s even led to discussions over his place among the salary-cap era’s top goalies.
Although Lundqvist never passed the 40-wins-in-a-season mark, he’s consistently been one of the NHL’s most victorious goalies. He won 30 or more games in seven of nine seasons in the 2010s (excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season), cementing his place as the winningest European goalie in NHL history. His victories have translated strong statistically; he kept a goals against average below 2.50 seven times (including a career-high 1.97 GAA in 2011-12) and a save percentage over .920 seven times too.
Those stats led to Lundqvist breaking several records at both the club level — most shutouts and wins by a Rangers goalie — and league-wide, such as winning 400 NHL games the fastest.
Sweden’s national hockey teams also benefitted from Lundqvist’s brilliance, such as in the 2014 Olympics (silver medal) and the 2016 World Cup (semi-finals). But the crowning moment of Lundqvist’s international career — at least, in the 2010s — is undoubtedly the 2017 World Championships. After joining Sweden in the group stage, the veteran goaltender kept a 1.31 goals against average and a .946 save percentage en route to the country’s 10th World Championship. The best part? He got to share the achievement with his twin brother, Sweden captain Joel Lundqvist.
Sure, Lundqvist never won the Stanley Cup, as critics have always pointed out. But, given everything Lundqvist achieved this decade — international success, consistently good numbers, and team and league records — it’s clear that “King Henrik” is the only one fit enough to wear the crown as the decade’s best NHL goaltender.
Top Moment: Save vs. Montreal Canadiens, Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final
For as many career saves as Lundqvist made, none come close to his stop on Thomas Vanek in game six of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. After Vanek’s attempt deflected off of a stick, Lundqvist twisted his body and slapped the puck away from the goal using his blocker.
Off the back of Lundqvist’s stop, the Rangers won the clincher by a 1-0 score and qualified for their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994. The Rangers did end up losing the final to the Los Angeles Kings, but thanks to Lundqvist’s save, they experienced their greatest playoff run in the 21st century.
To read the other part of this list, which covers the goaltenders ranked from number 10 to 6, click on this link.