WASHINGTON — The finest goaltender through two thrilling games between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals has not been the reigning Vezina trophy winner.
It's been Frederik Andersen.
The Leafs stand even at one game apiece with the favoured Caps largely because Andersen, the NHL's only Danish goaltender, who has outplayed Braden Holtby — last season's Vezina Trophy winner. Andersen stopped 47-of-50 shots in Saturday's double overtime classic, his team prevailing in the 91st minute on the second of two goals by rookie Kasperi Kapanen.
"He was by far our best player tonight," Jake Gardiner said after the 4-3 triumph, the 26-year-old logging 40-plus minutes on the Leafs battered back-end.
Toronto only stood a shot of making noise against the Capitals, who had 55 wins and 118 points during the regular season, if their 27-year-old No. 1 stood toe to toe with Holtby and so far, he's done just that. In fact, Andersen has been just a touch better than Holtby, a likely finalist for the Vezina once again this year after posting 42 wins, nine shutouts and a .925 save percentage during the regular season.
Andersen has stopped 88-of-94 shots through two games for a .936 save percentage while Holtby has turned aside 82-of-88 shots for a .932 clip. But dig even deeper than that and Andersen's numbers get even better. The Dane has stopped 80-of-83 shots at even-strength (.964) and 13-of-14 high-danger scoring opportunities for Washington (.929) — the latter at five-on-five.
Holtby, by contrast, has denied 71 of 76 at even strength (.934) and 11 of 13 of high-danger chances (.846).
EVEN-STRENGTH SAVE PERCENTAGE
HIGH-DANGER SCORING CHANCE SAVE PERCENTAGE
Andersen was especially effective early on Saturday evening at Verizon Center and then again late in regulation and throughout the two overtime frames.
Most notable was his denial of Caps captain Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway with 27 seconds left in the first OT. In all, Andersen denied 16 shots in the two overtime periods, adding 13 more saves in a third period owned by the Caps.
"He was outstanding in Game 1 and obviously, he was no slouch tonight," said Morgan Rielly, who also clocked in at over 40 minutes and scored the Leafs' third goal.
Most impressive to the 23-year-old was Andersen's "calmness" between the pipes, an even-keel aura that seems to extend to his personality off the ice. Rielly described him as "calm, calculated and quiet.
"I think that just translates to his play and what he's able to do to help this team is huge," Rielly said.
Andersen's confidence has been apparent in how he's emphatically snatched shots out of the air with his glove and fired the puck — sometimes excessively — to teammates up ice.
His workload has been heavy against the Capitals, who had 112 shot attempts in Game 2. Every one of those attempts requires Andersen to get down in a crouch and ready himself for a save — an especially taxing task when the game lasts more than 90 minutes.
Between the first and second overtime, Andersen tried to keep himself hydrated, grab a snack and "stay focused."
He was equal parts brilliant and error-prone in Game 1 two nights earlier.
His 41 stops in the 3-2 overtime loss were all that allowed the game to even get to overtime, but he was also caught off-guard by Tom Wilson's game-winner and couldn't find the Matt Niskanen shot which allowed Justin Williams to eventually tie the game at 2-2.
Andersen has showed well in the playoffs before, delivering a .947 save percentage in five starts for the Ducks last spring.
He had a strong, and yet bumpy, finish to his first season with the Leafs, posting a .928 save percentage in March and April to help the club reach its first post-season in four years. He took a pair of knocks to the head along the way, too, and was forced to sit out the regular season finale — which the Leafs ultimately lost to draw Washington.
Andersen had a .918 save percentage during the regular season, even with Chicago's Corey Crawford and Nashville's Pekka Rinne for eighth-best among those who'd played at least 50 games, if still a touch below the elite class of Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price.
Toronto paid a steep price to get Andersen last summer, sending first and second round picks to Anaheim. They proceeded to sign him to a five-year, US$25 million contract.
He's justifying their confidence so far.
"He's been the backbone of this team all year," Rielly said. "When we're out there playing and we know he's behind us, it gives us that much more confidence."