Stanley Cup playoffs 2014: The beginning of the John Gibson era

Harry How

Has Bruce Boudreau finally found the goalie that can get him over the second round hump?

SB Nation 2014 NHL Playoff Bracket

The Anaheim Ducks were eventually going to be John Gibson's team.

Given his play on the international stage (World Junior Championship, World Championships, an Olympic camp invite) and in the American Hockey League over the past two years, it was simply a matter of when -- and not if -- it was going to happen.

With Jonas Hiller struggling this postseason and Frederik Andersen injured (and also struggling) late in a Game 3 win at Los Angeles, there was perhaps no time like the present for coach Bruce Boudreau to hand the keys to his 20-year-old phenom.

So far, it has worked as well as the Ducks could have possibly hoped. It may even turn out to be a season-saving move.

Gibson recorded a 28-save shutout in his postseason debut. He was perhaps even better on Monday night when he stopped 39 of the 42 shots he faced, including a third period flurry as the Kings desperately tried to force overtime, to give the Ducks a 3-2 series lead and get his team one game closer to the Western Conference Final.

If nothing else, Boudreau's willingness to tie his Stanley Cup hopes to a rookie that had appeared in just two NHL games before the playoffs started illustrates the madness of NHL goaltending.

A team needs a good goalie, or at the very least one that isn't going to single-handedly sabotage a team's chances come playoff time. But netminders are often impossible to project. Once a team thinks it has the position figured out, everything can suddenly fall apart. It takes thousands upon thousands of shots to have even an educated guess as to what type of goalie you're dealing with, and you still never really know what to expect from game-to-game or series-to-series.

There is an even greater unknown when it comes to a player like Gibson.

In many cases that unknown is too much of a risk for coaches, as experience tends to win out in the playoffs.

Even going back to his Washington days, Boudreau is one coach that has -- for better or worse -- never seemed to get caught in that trap or be afraid to go with an inexperienced goalie in net.

During the 2009 playoffs, Boudreau made the call early in Round 1 to bench Jose Theodore with his team in an 0-2 hole, opting to go with 20-year-old Semyon Varlamov after he had appeared in just six regular season games. Varlamov responded by recording a 33-save shutout in his first playoff start and helped lead the Capitals to Game 7 of the second round.

Two years later, Boudreau went into the playoffs with 22-year-old Michal Neuvirth between the pipes with only 48 games of experience under his belt.

For one reason or another it never worked out between Boudreau and the Capitals, often times for reasons other than the performance of their goalies. But in Gibson, Boudreau might finally have the one to get him over the second-round hump and into the Conference Finals for the first time in his NHL coaching career.

Bourdreau_photo_credit-_james_guillory-usa_today_sports_medium

Photo credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

If he's able to pull it off it will be a pretty rare accomplishment given just how young and inexperienced his goalie is.

When Gibson starts Game 6 on Wednesday he will be just the 15th goalie in NHL history to have started at least three playoff games before his 21st birthday, and only the fourth since 1995.

If the Ducks win this series and advance, Gibson would be just the second under-21 goalie in the 16-team playoff format to start for his team in the Conference Finals. He would join only Patrick Roy, who won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 as a 20-year-old.

But no matter what happens over the next couple of weeks, the real excitement for the Ducks should be in the foundation that Gibson is setting for the next couple of seasons. With Jonas Hiller set to become a free agent and Gibson's set as a top goalie prospect, the teenager is going to get at the very least a split of the playing time next season with Andersen, and perhaps even the bulk of it. Between them, they will count $1.9 million against the salary cap.

Gibson will be just the 15th goalie in NHL history to have started at least three playoff games before his 21st birthday

There is perhaps no more valuable commodity in the cap era than a No. 1 goaltender on a cheap contract.

It's a position that teams will pay through the nose for in the hopes of finding their franchise goalie only to come away, more often than not, disappointed with what they get in return while taking up a significant chunk of salary cap space.

If you can get the position locked down for a cheap price and get No. 1 production, particularly from a goalie on an entry-level deal like Gibson will be over the next couple of years, it is an enormous advantage over the rest of your competition when it comes to filling out the rest of your roster.

The Kings had that advantage in 2012 with Jonathan Quick and the Blackhawks have had it the past two seasons with Corey Crawford.

The Ducks should have this advantage for at least the next two or three seasons.

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