Vitek Vancek needed to show a few things to the New Jersey Devils after he was traded last offseason. For one, he had to show he could handle starter minutes. He did a good job at that, winning 33 games last season. Vanecek needed to prove he could handle the workload of 60+ games in a season. The jury is still out on that one. Then, he needed to prove he could perform in the playoffs. He absolutely failed there.
Vanecek was terrible in the playoffs. He looked like he wasn’t ready for the moment. In the first two games against the New York Rangers, Igor Shesterkin wasn’t letting anything by him, and Vanecek couldn’t stop the hard shots coming his way. It was especially bad on the power play, where a Chris Kreider goal became close to an inevitability.
His save percentage was .825 in seven games in the playoffs. Only four of those games were starts, and he only won one of them. The Devils lost all but one of his appearances. Even in his one win, he gave up four goals to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Because of his performance in the playoffs, rumors have swirled that the Devils have been in the market for a goalie. Due to that, every available goalie is tied to New Jersey. Number one on that list is Connor Hellebuyck. There are others, like John Gibson and Logan Thompson. If Vanecek was good in the playoffs, none of these conversations would be happening.
So the million-dollar question is, “Can Vanecek fix his playoff woes?” There is some precedence here. Vanecek needs to look at his fellow countryman who carried his team to the Stanley Cup Final.
Sergei Bobrovsky was amazing in the playoffs this season. He actually has been very good in his three of his last five playoff performances. Since his last season with Columbus, Bob has been an asset in the playoffs. Last season, he finished with a .915 save percentage.
Prior to his last season in Columbus, Bobrovsky had that same reputation in the playoffs. His reputation actually went beyond that because he was a Vezina Trophy candidate who couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. Then, he beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Everything changed after that.
Vanecek has to lose the expectations to succeed. He has to come into the playoffs with nothing to lose. Even if he’s lying to himself, he has to go into the situation with that mindset. If the pressure is on and he feels it, we will see that floppy, random movement we saw this past season. If he can be cool, ignore the expectations, and play like it’s any other game, we expect Vanecek to fix his playoff issues.