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NHL playoffs: It's never too early for Patrick Roy to pull his goalie

One of the joys of watching the Colorado Avalanche play from behind is seeing just how early Patrick Roy is going to pull his goalie. He did it with three minutes to play in a playoff game on Thursday. That is pretty early.

SB Nation 2014 NHL Playoff Bracket

Doug Pensinger

One of these days Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy is going to pull his goalie in the middle of a game and we're all going to think he has completely lost his mind.

It's already pretty well known around the league that no coach this season has been more aggressive than Roy when it comes sending out the extra attacker in an attempt to tie the game. If you were wondering whether or not he would have that same aggressiveness in the playoffs, where games take on even more importance, he showed on Wednesday during Colorado's come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild that he absolutely is.

If anything, he was even more aggressive than he was during the regular season.

With the Avalanche trailing, 4-3, Roy decided to remove starting goalie Semyon Varlamov with 3:01 to play in regulation. It didn't result in an immediate reward, but after some extended zone time in the Minnesota end of the ice and a desperation play to save a goal by defenseman Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny finally found a way to get one behind Ilya Bryzgalov with 14 seconds to play to send the game to overtime. Stastny would end up scoring the winner 7:27 into the extra period.

But let's take another look at the decision to pull his goalie with three minutes to play in a one-goal playoff game, which might be considered madness to some even though every piece of data suggests that it's not.

Most coaches, whether it's the regular season or playoffs, aren't going to make that call until there is about one minute to play in a one-goal game. Down by two, they might bump it up to a minute-and-a-half or maybe even two minutes.

For Roy, two minutes seems to be his limit in a one-goal game. If it's more than one goal, he's been known to do it with as many as five minutes remaining.

Here is a detailed look at every pulled goalie situation Roy has had this season with the Avalanche, including the opponent, the deficit faced, how much time was remaining when he made the call, and the shot and goal totals with the goalie pulled. It's pretty amazing.

Date Opponent Deficit Time Remaining Shot Attempts Shot Attempts Against Goals Goals Against Result
10/17/2013 Detroit 1 2:07 9 0 0 0 Loss
11/12/2013 Carolina 1 1:22 4 2 0 0 Loss
12/8/2013 Vancouver 3 5:00 12 0 0 0 Loss
12/10/2013 Phoenix 2 1:05 3 0 0 0 Loss
12/17/2013 Dallas 1 1:28 7 2 0 0 Loss
12/23/2013 San Jose 1 2:20 3 0 1 0 OT Loss
1/6/2014 Calgary 1 1:40 3 0 0 0 Loss
1/21/2014 Toronto 2 2:56 0 2 0 1 Loss
2/3/2014 New Jersey 1 2:07 2 0 1 0 Win
2/6/2014 Philadelphia 2 3:33 9 1 1 1 Loss
2/26/2014 Los Angeles 1 2:09 2 1 0 1 Loss
3/8/2014 St. Louis 1 2:31 5 1 0 0 Loss
3/14/2014 Anaheim 2 3:52 10 3 0 0 Loss
3/18/2014 Montreal 2 2:20 1 1 0 1 Loss
3/21/2014 Boston 2 4:46 7 2 0 0 Loss
4/3/2014 New York Rangers 1 2:00 3 0 1 0 Win
4/11/2014 San Jose 3 5:43 6 1 0 1 Loss
4/17/2014 Minnesota 1 3:01 8 0 1 0 Win

Let's break this down even further.

  • Out of the 18 situations where Roy has pulled his goalie this seasonly, only 4 of them came with less than two minutes to play in regulation, and all of those came in the first half of the season. As the season has progressed he seems to have become way more aggressive, especially in one-goal games.
  • The average time remaining in all games is between two-and-a-half and three minutes. If the deficit is two or more goals it goes up over three minutes.
  • In one-goal games it was typically around two minutes to play in the regular season, but as you can see on the table above his decision to pull Varlamov on Thursday with three minutes to play was by far the earliest he has done it this season in a one-goal game. Before that, the earliest he had pulled a goalie in a one-goal game was with 2:31 to play against St. Louis on March 8.
  • Including Thursday, the Avalanche ended up forcing overtime in four of the games, winning three of them. The time remaining in the games they tied it: 1:47 to play against New Jersey on Feb. 3, 52 seconds to play on April 3 against the Rangers, 14 seconds to play against Minnesota on Thursday, and 1:51 to play against San Jose on Dec. 23. The Avalanche won the former three and lost the latter in overtime. The overtime loss to San Jose is particularly interesting because after Colorado tied, it ended up taking the lead just 22 seconds later before giving up a game-tying goal of its own in the final minute.


Photo credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Getting the tying goal just four out of 18 times may not seem like a lot, but even if it resulted in one or two extra wins it still seems like it was worth it. The chances of an NHL team coming back to win a game it's down by a goal or two with four or five minutes to play probably aren't very high to begin win with, and the only real risk is that you might lose a game 4-2 instead of 3-2 (or 5-1 instead of 4-1). The upside is you maybe force overtime one or two extra times and get a couple of extra wins out of it.

On Thursday, he got an extra win out of it. And it could be a big one.