In this post I will examine the suitability of Jose Theodore to lead the Washington Capitals into the playoffs as the starting goaltender. In this installment I will examine his past playoff performances and in the next installment I will take a look at his current situation against other historical comparables.
Taking a look at Theodore's playoff history, I am filled with confidence that he will be more than capable of carrying the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup victory this season. Theodore's career numbers are: 49 Games, 19 Wins, 27 Losses, a 2.79 Goals Against Average, a .912 Save Percentage, with 1 Shutout. His most important numbers, though, are 4 and 100%. Four as in the number of playoff series he has won as the starter. One hundred percent as in four times he has been the goalie of record for his team's entire playoff run, and four times he has won a playoff series.
Here are summaries of his four long post-season runs over the course of 6 NHL seasons. I must emphasize here that Jose Theodore has never once enjoyed home-ice advantage as a playoff starter. The major prevailing trend of these playoff runs is Jose Theodore throws the team on his back and upsets a higher seeded team in round one, draining his overachieving team in the process and setting up a rout against a much better team in the second round. He always comes to play in the biggest games, and he almost always follows up a bad game with a great one. With the Capitals set to enjoy home-ice throughout the playoffs and being a high-scoring team, Theodore should not encounter the same problems has has faced in the past.
2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The #6 Colorado Avalanche upset Northwest Division Champion #3 seed Minnesota Wild in six games. Jose Theodore was the Game's #1 Star in Wins in Games 1, 5, and 6. After winning Game 1 on the road in overtime by a 3-2 score, the Avalanche lost the next two games in overtime by the same 3-2 score. Games 3 and 4 were on back-to-back nights at home, and down in the series 2-1, coming off a loss the night before and three straight overtime games, Theodore shuts the door and only allows one goal in Game 4. Theodore won Game 5 on the road 3-2, stopping 38 of 40 shots, with what the AP recap called an "otherworldly performance." He won Game 6 at home 2-1, stopping 34 of 35, where he "didn't have to be quite such a savior."
Praise for Theodore after winning Game 6 and the series:
-Colorado Coach Joel Quenneville: "He was great. None better than Game 5 in Minnesota where he single-handedly got us that key victory. He's been very consistent, very quick, very alert, sharp."
-Colorado Center Peter Forsberg: "You knew if you made a mistake he was going to be there."
-Colorado Winger Ian Laperriere: "He stole a game in Minnesota the other night, which we needed him to do. Tonight he was solid. Didn't give up any rebounds, nothing."
-Minnesota Winger Marian Gaborik: "Either it was tight or it was Theodore."
-Minnesota Winger Aaron Voros: "It seemed like we were having more quality chances, we just weren't able to get many by him."
Theodore finished the series with a 4-2 record, a 1.88 GAA and a .940 Save %.
The Avalanche got swept by the #1 seed, President's Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings had also swept them in the regular season series and had home-ice advantage. Jose Theodore had a horrible series after battling the flu in Games 1 and 2 and was pulled in both. He recovered to have a decent Game 3, losing 4-3, but I think this quote by Detroit Center Pavel Datsyuk after Game 3 says it all: "There were no defensemen on either goal. All I had to worry about was the goalie."
By Game 4, the Avalanche were without 5 of their top 9 forwards: Peter Forsberg, Paul Stastny, Marek Svatos, Ryan Smyth, and Wojtek Wolski, and the results were predictable. Theodore was pulled again.
Theodore finished the series with an 0-4 record, a 6.90 GAA, and a .826 Save %.
His backup goalie, Peter Budaj, finished the series with a 3.33 GAA and a .908 Save % in 108 minutes work, mostly in garbage time.
Theodore finished the playoffs with a 4-6 record, a 3.15 GAA and a .906 Save %. His save percentage was higher than that of Martin Biron, who took Philadelphia pas the Capitals and to the Conference Final, and Carey Price, who took #1 seed Montreal to the second round.
2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The #7 seed Colorado Avalanche shocked the #2 seed Dallas Stars by taking the series in 5 games, including winning all 3 games in Texas. The Avalanche were breaking in a new goalie, as Theodore had just come over from Montreal in a trade and had only played 5 regular season games for the Avs, going 1-3-1 after recovering from a fractured right heel. Theodore won the first three games of the series, with Games 2 and 3 going to overtime. Dallas stormed back to take Game 4 by a 4-1 score in which Theo stopped 35 of 38 shots and Colorado allowed an empty net goal. Theodore shut the door in Game 5, taking a 3-2 decision in overtime and earning the game's #2 star for stopping 50 of 52 shots, and earning the series victory.
Praise for Jose Theodore:
-Colorado Captain Joe Sakic: "He's the reason we're standing here with smiles on our face, really. He was unbelievable today...He kept us in and gave us a chance."
-Colorado Winger Jim Dowd: "I told (everyone), Theo's going to come back with a huge game. And he did. He basically stole that game for us, especially in the overtime."
Theo ended the series with a 4-1 record, a 2.64 GAA and a .910 Save %.
Theodore's Avalanche were swept against #6 seed Anaheim. The Avalanche couldn't score in the first two games on the road, losing 5-0 and 3-0. They regained some respectability in Game 3 by forcing overtime, but bowed out quietly in Game 4, losing 4-1. Anaheim spent long stretches in the Colorado zone and the Ducks fired at least 34 shots on goal in every game. Because his team could only score 4 goals all series, Theodore's contributions were rendered moot. This Anaheim team lost in the Conference Final to the upstart Edmonton Oilers, but won the Stanley Cup the next season.
Theodore finished the series with a 0-4 record, a 3.52 GAA, and a .894 Save %.
He finished the playoffs with a 4-5 record, a 3.02 GAA, and a .902 Save %. His save percentage was higher than Ottawa's Ray Emery, who took the #1 seed Ottawa Senators to the second round.
2004 NHL Playoffs
Jose Theodore's #7 seeded Montreal Canadiens defeated the #2 seed Boston Bruins in a 7-game series. This series was one for the ages, with Boston taking a 2-0 series lead at home, then taking a game in Montreal to make it 3-1 going back to Boston before Montreal won the final three games. Theodore was the #1 Star of the Game for Games 5 and 7, both elimination games, both in Boston.
Game 1 saw the Canadiens get shut out 3-0 and Theo stopped 36 of 39. Game 2 ended in overtime, 2-1, with Jose Theodore getting his glove on the overtime winner before it went in.
Montreal took Game 3 by a 3-2 score before. Without goal support in his first two games, Jose Theodore did it himself and fired two amazing breakout passes, assisting on Montreal's first two goals of the game in the first period, both scored by Alexei Kovalev. He became just the third goalie to accomplish the feat, and the second goalie to record two assists in a period, the other being Hall-of Famer Grant Fuhr.
The Canadiens fell 4-3 in double overtime in Game 4 to face elimination for the next game, a game they had led 3-1. A shot deflected off a defenseman's skate to bring the score to 3-2 and only a video review of a Mike Knuble garbage pickup in front of the Montreal net with 31 seconds left in regulation even forced overtime. Theodore stopped 40 of 44 shots in 89:27 of playing time before allowing a Glen Murray shot through after a bad Kovalev giveaway left the 32-goal scorer alone with the puck.
The Montreal Canadiens stormed back to take Game 5 in Boston by a dominating 5-1 score. Theodore earned First Star of the Game honors for stopping 43 of 44 Bruin shots. Game 6 returned to Montreal and Les Habitants did not need Jose to be quite as dominant: he stopped 22 of 24 in a 5-2 win.
All important Game 7 returned to hostile Boston against a team that finished 11 points ahead of 4th place Montreal in the Northeast Division standings. The Bruins stormed the net and fired 32 shots on Theodore, who stopped all 32 for his first and only career NHL Playoff Shutout in his biggest game.
Theodore finished the series with a 4-3 record, a 1.86 GAA, a .938 Save %, 1 Shutout, and 2 Assists.
Praise for Theodore after Game 7:
-Montreal Coach Claude Julien: "Teams are successful because of goaltending in this league. He was at his best when it really counted."
The Montreal Canadiens ran into a juggernaut in the next series and were swept in their second round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Tampa boasted an excellent attack led by the league's leading scorer and MVP Martin St. Louis and the #8 and #10 scorers, Cory Stillman and Brad Richards, winner of the Lady Byng Trophy. Oh, and they had that Vincent Lecavalier guy, who had 32 goals and sat #27 in league scoring. The Tampa Bay Lightning eventually won the Stanley Cup and overmatched the Canadiens throughout the series.
Game 1 was a travesty as Montreal was blanked 4-0 and Theodore was pulled midway through the third period. He struggled all night, even allowing a goal when he bent to pick up his lost goal stick. He and his teammates were not sharp at all after a draining Game 7 victory only a few days before. Game 2 went little better as Tampa Bay was ahead 2-0 before the game was 9 minutes old and lost 3-1. Game 3 was much better as the Canadiens forced overtime, but were stunned only 65 seconds in and Tampa Bay walked off with a 4-3 victory and finished the sweep with a 3-1 victory in Game 4.
Theodore finished the series 0-4 with a 3.43 GAA and a .880 Save %. Montreal scored a total of 5 goals in the 4 game series.
Theo finished the playoffs with a 4-7 record, a 2.39 GAA and a .919 Save %. His save percentage was higher than Philadelphia's Robert Esche, who lost to Tampa Bay in the Conference Final.
2002 NHL Playoffs
Jose Theodore had just done the impossible: he won seven straight games and the Montreal Canadiens had made the playoffs after nobody gave them much of a chance to do it, edging out the Washington Capitals by 2 points. Theodore would eventually win the Vezina Trophy as best goalie and the Hart Memorial Trophy as League MVP for his efforts, and his team captain and #1 center, Saku Koivu, would win the Masterton Trophy for perseverance after missing all but the final three games in the regular season after surviving stomach cancer.
The 8th-seeded Montreal Canadiens took down the top seeded Boston Bruins in six games. Boston had finished 14 points ahead of 4th place Montreal in the Northeast Division standings and were riding a hot goalie as former Capital Byron Dafoe went 9-3-1 leading up to the playoffs. Jose Theodore split the first four games before taking the series into his control and earning #1 star of the game honors for Games 5 and 6 to end the series.
Game 1 began with Montreal spotting Boston a goal midway through the first period before storming back with 5 of the next 6 goals to take a 5-2 victory in which Jose Theodore made 30 saves. Game 2 showed why Boston was the top seed, they scored the first four goals of the game in the game's first 12 minutes and never relinquished the lead, though Montreal made it 4-3 and 5-4 before Boston scored into an empty net for the final 6-4 margin.
Game 3 saw the series move to Montreal and the Canadiens did not disappoint their fans, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 5-3 decision in which Theodore stopped 29 of 32 shots. Game 4 was a victory for Boston, but a costly one. Bruins defender Kyle McLaren delivered a blatant elbow to the head of Montreal leading scorer Richard Zednik with only 77 seconds in a 5-2 game. Zednik, who had two goals in the game (both assisted by Joe Juneau) and 8 points in 4 games in the series, would not return for the rest of the playoffs and McLaren was suspended for three games after his ejection.
Game 5 saw Jose Theodore stop 43 of 44 shots and the Canadiens won 2-1 in Boston. The Canadiens rushed out to an early lead only 2 and a half minutes in before doubling their lead late in the first period. Theodore only allowed a goal halfway though the game to waterbug Sergei Samsonov and held up the lead for the rest of the way, including killing off a powerplay just three minutes after the Boston goal.
Game 6 was another Theodore masterpiece, as he stopped 34 of 35 shots for another 2-1 victory in Montreal, this time of the come-from-behind variety. It was Boston's turn to score early and Jose Theodore held the fort and let his teammates catch up.
This series marked only the sixth time in NHL history that the bottom playoff seed had upset the top seed, a feat only accomplished since by the 2006 Edmonton Oilers. Jose Theodore finished the series 4-2 with a 2.83 GAA and a .919 Save %.
The #8 seed Canadiens lost in 6 games to the Southeast Division Champion Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes would eventually represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings and lost in 5 games. They had just defeated the defending Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils in Round 1.
Game 1 was a dud by the Canadiens who lost 2-0. Jose Theodore was outstanding, though, as he stopped 36 of 38 shots and was named the #2 star of the game. Kevin Weekes, who authored the Carolina shutout, was the #3 Star. Game 2 was an excellent 4-1 road win by the Canadiens. Jose Theodore stopped 45 of 46 shots and was named the #1 Star of the Game.
The Canadiens returned to Montreal for Game 3 and won 2-1 in overtime as chinks were showing in their armor. Jose Theodore delayed the inevitable by stopping 33 of 34 shots and earned the Game's #2 Star, the fifth game in a row he had been the #1 or #2 star. Montreal's emotional high of making the playoffs, beating Boston, and regaining their captain was wearing off.
Game 4 saw the Hurricanes regain control of the series. They had returned to their starting goaltender, Arturs Irbe, and allowed the first three goals of the game and won the game 4-3 in Montreal with a 4-goal third period. Theodore was marvelous, stopping 36 of a 40-shot barrage, but was unable to withstand a 14-4 shot disadvantage in the third.
Game 5 returned the series to Carolina and Irbe shut the door. Theodore kept his team in the game until late, only allowing one goal in each of the first two periods, but Carolina finally prevailed 5-1 after launching 31 shots on net. Game 6 was a total collapse on the part of the Canadiens, as Theodore allowed an Erik Cole goal 25 seconds into the game and another 2:08 later as Cole set two franchise records in 3 and a half minutes. The game got ugly and Theodore was pulled early in the second period after allowing the 5th Hurricane goal. His backup did little better and Montreal got two goals in garbage time to make the final score 8-2.
Despite the final scores of the last three games, Theodore finished the series with a 2-4 record, a 3.31 GAA, and a .915 Save %. Theo finished the playoffs with a 6-6 record, a 3.06 GAA and a .915 Save %.
Before 2002, Jose Theodore had appeared in 5 playoff games with a 1-2 record, a 1.67 GAA, and a .944 Save %.
On April 24, 1997, in his rookie season, he set his personal playoff record for saves in a game with 56. Montreal was the #8 seed and was down 3-0 in the series to the #1 seed New Jersey Devils. Montreal won the elimination game 4-3 in triple overtime for Theodore's first career playoff win in his first try. Theodore finished the series and lost the next game 4-0.