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If you had a goaltender with a 50-24 record, complete with an impressive 1.64 goals-against average and an equally imposing .936 save percentage in the playoffs, would you start the guy?
That’s the post-season goaltending line on Mikko Koskinen in his six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, including four straight seasons in the playoffs with SKA St. Petersburg that were highlighted by winning the Gagarin Cup in 2015 and ’17.
The six-foot-seven Finn has yet to play a minute in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But coming off his twin triumphs in Russsia inspired Koskinen to take the chance to see if he could succeed in the NHL and get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now, nobody should suggest Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett should decide to go with Koskinen in goal Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of the best-of-five play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks because the guy has good KHL playoff numbers and won a couple Gagarin Cups.
And Tippett should probably not be making his starting goaltender decision based on a series Mike Smith had playing goal for him in Phoenix in an upset win over Chicago back in 2012 either.
Smith’s series against the Blackhawks is something of lower-case Stanley Cup legend. I doubt if anybody in Edmonton has much of a clue about Koskinen’s heroics in the KHL.
Both scenarios are interesting.
Smith made 39 saves in a 4-0 win to end the series in six games in 2012. Over the series, he made 229 saves.
The six-foot-five netminder, who is allergic to barbers and can’t seem to keep his mask on his head for an entire game, won all three series games in Chicago’s United Centre.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews testified that Game 6 was a particularly frustrating night.
“We worked so hard. We had so many chances. Every time we had a chance and it didn’t go in, we said, ‘Keep working. We’ll get another one. It’ll go in eventually.’ We got so many pucks through and the always found a way to hit him in the head, the pads or the shoulder. We didn’t get any lucky ones on him. He played great but we didn’t find a way to beat him,” he said of the Chicago team that had already won one Stanley Cup and had two to come.
Flash forward eight years and Toews and the Blackhawks may have an opportunity to get some distant revenge if Smith is the starter.
Tippett and the Oilers brain trust, of course, have taken the time to do some research on Koskinen in the playoffs. And Tippett admits he is a study.
“You recognize what he’s done in his past to get here. I looked into his record over the years a bit before I came last year,” said the coach of doing his homework before deciding to leave expansion Seattle to take this job. “When I looked at him, the one thing that was evident to me was that he was fatigued the year before. He’d played a lot of games and that looked like it was affecting his play. And this year, with the way we platooned our guys he’s looked fresh every start.
“He’s a quiet guy but he’s a mature guy. He understands the game fairly well. He has a quiet confidence about him. And I think the biggest thing with both our goaltenders is that our team trusts both of them and I think the goaltenders trust the team.
“Mikko has played well all year and you know what he’s done in the past. He’s got good experience in playoffs, just not in the NHL. We recognize that and we expect him to be a good player in the playoffs.”
There aren’t many coaches in this league that go back to best-of-five series in the NHL, but Tippett and Joel Quenneville both go back to the days when they played with the Hartford Whalers and the first four games of the series were played over a stretch of five days.
And they know the history.
In all, there were 56 five-game first-round series coming out of merger with the World Hockey Association between 1980-86.
The team that won Game 1 won 49 of those series.
In 1980, Game 1 winners were 7-1. The following year, they were 8-0 and one of them included the 14th-ranked Edmonton Oilers sweeping the third-ranked Montreal Canadiens, inspired by teh decision to start Andy Moog in goal.
Tippett still wasn’t tipping his hand on his Game 1 starter Thursday but he also wasn’t playing down the importance of making the right decision.
“You’re exactly right,” Tippett conceded on Thursday’s Zoom media event. “The first game in a best-of-five, it’s imperative that you start well. If you lose Game 1, does that mean you lose the series? No. But winning that first game certainly puts you at an advantage.
“You have to make sure your team is ready to play in Game 1 and you have to make sure your goaltender is ready to play in Game 1.”
In the AzorcanGlobal, poll expectations were running at 84 per cent Thursday afternoon that Koskinen would get the net. That’s my expectation, too.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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