It has been a constant debate and one that has gone right down to the wire, but with puck drop for Game 1 just hours away, the Washington Capitals have chosen their starter to open their series against the Florida Panthers: Vitek Vanecek.
Head coach Peter Laviolette told reporters after an optional skate in Sunrise that Vanecek will get the nod to open the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There have been times over the course of the season that Vanecek appeared to and take control of the crease, especially after heating up around the trade deadline. In fact, the Capitals felt confident in their goaltending at that time and elected to stick with their young tandem rather than trade for another goaltender.
However, the Czech netminder took a step back down the stretch, opening up the race for No. 1 again. And though Ilya Samsonov got another chance to prove his worth, he couldn’t capitalize on his opportunity. And nor could Vanecek, as both split time between the pipes toward the end of the year.
“It hasn’t happened,” Laviolette said of one goalie taking control. “But yet, like I’ve said, a 100-point season, we’ve been able to find success with [two goalies]. They are two young goaltenders that are pushing every day. They’ve had success with our team.”
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Through 42 games this season, Vanecek went 20-12-6 with a .908 save percentage and 2.67 GAA. He did play one game against Florida this season, an odd 5-4 overtime loss that saw Vanecek unexpectedly start after Samsonov, who was originally the starter for that November game, “needed a minute” and missed the first 1:45 minutes of action. Vanecek would relieve Samsonov later on and stop 15 of 17 shots (.867 save percentage) in an ultimate 5-4 overtime loss to the Panthers.
Vanecek will now get the opportunity to start the series and perhaps take that chance and run with it. He’ll need to maintain strong positioning, track the play well and lock down rebound control, especially against a run-and-gun, high-octane offense like Florida’s. The Presidents’ Trophy winners led the league in goals per game (4.11) and also had the fifth-best power play (24.4) in the regular season.