Who should Wild start in Game 1 of the NHL playoffs? A case for both goaltenders
Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson have been among the best goaltending tandems in the league
Good luck getting Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason to tip his hand about his Game 1 playoff starter in goal. Not going to happen.
Any time Evason is asked about it — Marc-Andre Fleury or Filip Gustavsson — he goes out of his way to talk about how good both goaltenders have been this season.
To be fair, Evason has a point, as Fleury and Gustavsson have been among the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. Only the Boston Bruins’ dynamic duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman has been better.
That means the Wild can’t really make a bad decision with the playoffs right around the corner. Let’s take a look at a case for both goaltenders.
The case for Marc-Andre Fleury
The most obvious talking point when it comes to Fleury is his postseason experience. The veteran is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with 167 playoff games under his belt. You simply can’t teach that.
Are the Wild really going to let the future hall of famer ride the pine to start the playoffs?
Whether it’s been playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights or the Wild, there’s a certain swagger that Fleury brings whenever he stands between the pipes. His larger-than-life personality has a way of bringing the best out of everyone around him.
As if that’s not reason enough to start Fleury in a couple of weeks, he also has been nearly unbeatable as of late. He is 8-0-1 over the past month with a 2.19 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. He has a chance to improve that resume on Saturday night when the Wild battled the Golden Knights in Las Vegas.
The case for Filip Gustavsson
After being acquired last offseason seemingly to be the backup, Gustavsson has established himself among the best goaltenders in the league. That’s not even hyperbole.
Though there’s no doubt Ullmark is going to win the Vezina Trophy, and rightfully so, Gustavsson has numbers that rival his. On top of the fact that Gustavsson is 20-9-5 this season, proving he’s much more than a backup, he has an impressive 2.01 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
The only goaltender better than him in both stat categories is Ullmark.
There’s a distinct calmness with which Gustavsson plays the game. It’s something Evason references almost every single time he talks about him.
That was on display earlier this week when Gustavsson backstopped the Wild to a crucial victory over the Colorado Avalanche. He was spectacular for 60 minutes and almost never looked out of position.
That style could go a long way in the playoffs as the Wild try to get out of the first round for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
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