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It’s a weird time to be a No. 2 goalie in the NHL

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After their backup goalie gave up five goals on 13 shots and their third-stringer allowed a couple of more goals in a 7-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, a poll was circulating on Twitter on Tuesday night asking whether the Nashville Predators’ chances of winning Game 1 would have improved had they instead played with six skaters.

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It was more of a joke than a serious question.

At least, we think it was.

By Wednesday morning, 41% of 1,334 users had voted in favour of Nashville ditching its goalies completely. That tells you what the team’s odds are looking like without the services of No. 1 starter Juuse Saros, who remains doubtful for Game 2 after injuring his leg in the final week of the regular season.

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And yet, the Predators are not the only team reaching deep into their depth chart to fill what is considered the most important position in the playoffs.

You need great goaltending to win a Stanley Cup. Without it, you probably won’t even get out of the first round. But, as several teams are quickly finding out, quantity is sometimes just as important as quality.

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Nashville earned a wild-card spot this year in part because Saros put up Vezina Trophy-worthy numbers. But with him out for the foreseeable future, the team has had to choose between David Rittich — who went 6-3-4 with a 3.57 goals-against average this season — or rookie Connor Ingram, who went 1-2-0 with a 3.71 goals-against average.

“Hey, we lost the game. We lost big,” Predators head coach John Hynes told reporters. “But there’s a Game 2 coming next and we’ve got to be better.”

The choice was made a lot easier in Carolina, where Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta combined to win the William Jennings Trophy for having the lowest goals-against average in the league. With Andersen nursing a lower-body injury, Raanta stepped in and made his first career playoff start on Monday, where he stopped for 34 shots in a 5-1 win in Game 1 against Boston.

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“Their goalie made saves,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He is paid to play and he did a good job and he held them in the game early on.”

Pittsburgh has had similar luck so far. The Penguins, who are also without regular starter Tristan Jarry, turned to backup goalie Casey DeSmith for Game 1 against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. But it was third-stringer Louis Domingue who ended up getting the triple-OT win after DeSmith left the second overtime with a lower-body injury.

“Quite honestly, I felt good right away,” Domingue said after stopping all 17 shots he faced in relief. “I felt zero pressure. You dream about that your whole life. You’re playing in overtime in the playoffs. Are you kidding me? You think that you would be nervous going into a situation like that, but it was just fun for me.”

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Even without the freak injuries, these are strange and unsettling times for goalies. With the exceptions of Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky and Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom, we can’t remember another post-season where so many teams had so many question marks in net.

There are the goalies who are in the playoffs for the first time, such as New York’s Igor Shesterkin and Boston’s Jeremy Swayman. There are those with extremely limited experience, like Dallas’ Jake Oettinger, St. Louis’ Ville Husso and Washington’s Vitek Vanecek. There are those who are on their last legs, like Edmonton’s Mike Smith, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Minnesota’s Marc-Andre Fleury.

And then there are the wild cards who have something to prove, like Toronto’s Jack Campbell and Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper.

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As a result, handicapping who will win the Stanley Cup has become more of a guessing game than ever before — especially when so many teams are having to rely on their backups.

“Are there goaltending question marks? Yeah, there’s a lot of unknowns,” said Steve Valiquette, a former NHL goalie who is now an analyst with the MSG Network. “A couple of months ago, when the schedule was condensed, I figured we’d get injuries. You play a guy enough and at some point the dam is going to break.

“There’s a pretty big drop-off off from starters to backups.”

That being said, more teams are relying on tandems more than ever. It could explain why goalies are among the least paid in the NHL. Either that, or there’s only a handful that are worth the big bucks. Three goalies rank in the top 60 in NHL salaries, with six ranked among the top 100.

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In some cases, you get what you pay for.

Vasilevskiy, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy winner last year, has a $9.5-million salary. In fact, all four of the goalies in last year’s semifinals — five, if you include Fleury — all earned $5-million or more.

This year, half of the playoff teams are paying their starting goalie less than $5 million, with Dallas’ Oettinger earning just $900,000. Then again, Dallas is also paying Holtby, Scott Wedgewood and Anton Khudobin almost $5 million in combined salary.

Considering how many teams have had to go to their No. 2 or No. 3 already, it might not be a bad insurance strategy.

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