Last season, Filip Gustavsson played just 18 games for the Ottawa Senators and posted a 3.55 goals-against average with an .892 save percentage.
On Monday night, the 24-year-old Swede stopped 51 of 53 shots, lifting the Minnesota Wild to a 3-2 double-overtime road win in his NHL playoff debut.
When folks say “goaltending is voodoo” this is the sort of thing they’re talking about. To understand how we got from Point A to Point B here we need to take a look at a mini timeline of the Wild’s goaltending situation.
Nothing in that series of events indicated that Minnesota ever saw Gustavsson as a primary solution in goal. The team zeroed in on acquiring and extending Fleury in spite of his unspectacular production — and there’s a case to be made they would’ve been happy to hold onto Talbot, too, if he’d wanted to stay.
Getting Gustavsson was a way to move off of Talbot, save some cap space and bring in a backup with NHL experience. When he was acquired, Gustavsson himself talked about learning behind Fleury:
That’s a big honor. Such an experienced guy with so much success in his career. Just to be able to talk with him and practice with him and see him is going to help me a lot.
Yet here we are, less than a year later and the Wild have found themselves a goaltender who put up some of the best numbers in the NHL during the regular season.
Digging a little deeper, his even-strength save percentage (.932) was second only to Linus Ullmark, and his goals saved above average per 60 minutes (0.628) ranked fifth among goalies with more than 10 starts. To get more basic again, the guy has one regulation loss since Feb. 11.
In spite of that success, the Wild didn’t formally announce Gustavsson as their playoff starter until he led his team onto the ice on Monday.
Minnesota’s desire to bring Fleury aboard, extend him and give him every opportunity to be the guy in 2022-23 is all defensible. Gustavsson has had to earn trust over time considering a track record that doesn’t jump off the page, although he did have the tools to warrant going in the second round to Pittsburgh in 2016 — the third goalie off the board in that draft.
The former Senator had never posted a save percentage as strong as his 2022-23 number at any level, from the Swedish junior league to the AHL, in a sample of more than 10 games before this season. There was never any reason to believe he was a guy who’d set franchise playoff records or make game-saving overtime stops.
As luck would have it for the Wild, though, he appears to be that guy. And in a playoff field where battle-tested goalies are rare, Minnesota’s improbable ascending star could be one of the best of the bunch.