You know the old hockey cliche about a goaltender holding his team in the game just long enough for them to find their legs? That was Thursday night in a nutshell.
The Dallas Stars entered Thursday’s game against the Capitals simply as the opponent for Alex Ovechkin to score his 801st and potentially 802nd career goals, tying and surpassing Gordie Howe on the all-time list. But one player had other things in mind. Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger.
"Obviously, I don’t want that to happen. Not against us,” Oettinger said. “He can do that stuff another night. Always fun playing one of the best to ever do it. It’s a fun challenge and we stepped up.”
Oettinger stopped 45 of 46 shots to beat the Caps 2-1.
His team was taking on buckets of water, being outshot 15-5 in the second period and severely outplayed for more than half the hockey game. But Oettinger didn’t blink. He held them in the game just long enough to find two early third-period goals, then the goalie shut the door once again.
“He’s unflappable. He’s a special, special goalie, a special person,” Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer said. “He’s got great leadership, he’s got great respect in our room. Guys play hard for him. Those are all characteristics of an elite goalie that you need.”
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) December 16, 2022
Oettinger’s competitive streak has led him to new heights in the NHL. Every time a new challenge presents itself, he knocks it down without thinking twice or falling under the pressure.
When he stepped into his NHL debut in the 2020 Western Conference Final, the first goalie in the expansion era to ever do so, he was unfazed. A 20-year-old
Oettinger stopped all five shots he faced and gave his team a boost against the Vegas Golden Knights. He stopped all eight shots in his two appearances in the tournament.
In his first real taste of playoff hockey, Oettinger put on one of the greatest performances that the NHL has ever seen. In an intense seven-game series against the Calgary Flames in 2021-22, he stopped 272 of 285 shots (.955) and capped it off with a 64-save highlight-reel Game 7.
On Thursday in DC, the Caps poured it on with Grade-A chance after chance. T.J. Oshie from the slot, Ovechkin from the top of the crease, John Carlson on a one-timer, and the list goes on.
But each time that Dallas broke down, Oettinger was there. And equally as important and impressive, he was able to look through the traffic in front, find the puck, and not allow any rebounds, which stopped the momentum and gave his team a reset.
“Unreal,” Jamie Benn said. “Obviously, we gave up a lot of shots but he played an incredible game. Gave us a chance to win. Probably should be all three stars tonight.”
“You probably call that a goalie win for us. I thought he was our best player,” said DeBoer.”
Oettinger is no longer flying under the radar. The Minnesota native was the best goalie in the NHL before an injury forced him to miss a few games and now, he looks to be right back to form.
In his last four starts, Oettinger is 3-1-0 with a .931 save percentage.