NHL Playoffs: Blues and Red Wings Rely on Rookie Goalies

The NHL playoffs are usually as unpredictable as they are dramatic, hence that old adage about the hot goaltender determining possession of the Stanley Cup.

So what's the rule about rookies in the net during the postseason?

Well, the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues will soon find out how that works.

The Red Wings will rely on 23-year-old Petr Mrazek, who usurped the position from three-time All-Star Jimmy Howard, when they start the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.

In the Western Conference, the Blues will send Jake Allen into the crease to face the Minnesota Wild in the commencement of their first-round series.

Mrazek's only professional playoffs experience came with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL.

"It's not difficult. It's just a game. Who's going to score goals is going to win," said Mrazek, a 2010 fifth-round draft pick from the Czech Republic who has a 2.23 goals-against average in 40 games over parts of the last three seasons. "Who's going to be smarter and more patient is going to have the victory, so just stay positive and let's go win."

Howard, who has been Detroit's top goalie for six years, missed a month this winter with a groin injury. He wasn't himself after he returned in mid-February.

Brian Elliott had a solid season for the Blues, finishing ninth in the NHL with a 2.26 goals against average. The 30-year-old has been with St. Louis for four seasons. But Allen was too sharp down the stretch to keep on the shelf. The 24-year-old, who was a second-round pick in the 2008 draft, went 4-1-1 in his last six starts with just eight goals allowed.

"It doesn't matter if you play five games all year or 75 games. You want to get the net," Allen said. "It's going to be a fun test for me."

Here's a glance at the four games on the schedule for Thursday night (all times EDT):

Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network

A year ago, the Penguins held a 3-1 lead in their second-round series with the Rangers. New York rallied to win, then wound up in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to Los Angeles.

New York has used that success to put together the best season in franchise history and win the Presidents' Cup, while the Penguins barely squeezed into the playoff as the eighth seed.

The Rangers won three of four meetings with Pittsburgh, the loss coming in a shootout. Top goalie Henrik Lundqvist looks sharp after missing two months with a vascular injury.

Still, the Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc Andre-Fleury, who led the league with 10 shutouts.

Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m., CNBC

The hard-to-ignore story with this series is Steve Yzerman, the venerable former Red Wings star who's ninth in NHL history with 692 career goals and has been general manager of the Lightning for five years.

But Tampa Bay has not won a playoff series since 2011, and the pressure is on this potential-packed team to put all that scoring talent to use. Led by Steven Stamkos and his 43 goals, the Lightning had three of the league's top 19 scorers this season.

Goalie Ben Bishop will get his first playoff experience, having been injured a year ago and missed the first-round sweep by Montreal when the Canadiens scored 16 goals. Bishop is coming off a career season, with a 40-13-5 record, a 2.32 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues, 9:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network

Devan Dubnyk saved the Wild's season when he arrived in a trade with Arizona, setting a franchise record with 38 straight starts. He led their surge from fourth worst in the Western Conference to the sixth-best record and the top wild-card spot.

But the trade Minnesota made with Buffalo for right wing Chris Stewart several weeks later also has been instrumental in this team's success. Teamed on a line centered by captain Mikko Koivu, Stewart had three goals and eight assists in 20 games with a plus-4 rating. He'll be extra motivated in this series, too, having played in 211 games with the Blues over a four-year span.

Winnipeg Jets at Anaheim Ducks, 10:30 p.m., CNBC

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007, the Ducks have won a total of two playoff series, including a victory over Dallas in the first round last season. They ran into their on-a-roll local rival last year in the Western Conference semifinals, losing to eventual champion Los Angeles in a seven-game thriller.

But the Kings didn't make the cut this time, and the Ducks, one of the grittiest teams in the game, have the top seed. If they can survive a tough test against the upstart Jets, they'll be one of the true front-runners to play into June.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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