Ducks’ young goalie Gibson showing poise beyond his years

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson is congratulated by teammates after Game 5.

Kirby Lee/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

John Gibson won’t be 21 until July 14.

Maybe if he helps the Anaheim Ducks win the Stanley Cup, they’ll schedule his visit with the trophy on or after his birthday so that he can celebrate with his favorite alcoholic beverage, assuming that he has one.

Admittedly, those are some lofty expectations to put on the shoulders of the rookie goalie but if his first two games are any indication, he might be up to the task.

With the Ducks trailing the series 2-1 to Los Angeles and goalie Frederik Andersen having suffered an injury in Game 3, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was reluctant to go back to Jonas Hiller for Game 4 after Hiller had lost Games 1 and 2 of the series at home.

So Boudreau rolled the dice and went with Gibson, who had played three career games in the NHL, all of them between April 7 and April 13. Gibson won them all, helping the Ducks clinch the best regular-season record in the Western Conference.

In Game 4, the unflappable rookie responded by stopping all 28 shots to even the series, becoming the youngest goalie in NHL history to post a shutout in his playoff debut.

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Gibson won again in Game 5, this time by making 39 saves, meaning he has stopped 67 of the 70 shots he has faced for a .965 save percentage. (For a point of comparison, Boston’s Tuukka Rask is the playoff leader with a .933 save percentage; Gibson has not played enough games yet to qualify for the postseason lead.)

They say ignorance is bliss and five games into his NHL career, both regular season and playoffs, Gibson has yet to learn what defeat feels like.

Former NHL goalie Brian Hayward, who works as a Ducks broadcaster, said it’s rare for a goalie as young as Gibson to have such composure.

"I think the answer to that is it’s always a surprise when a 20-year-old handles himself like that," Hayward said. "Most of what I know about John Gibson comes from our scouting staff in Anaheim and they’ve been telling me for two years that this is the next franchise goalie, that every time they look at him, they’re convinced of that fact and he’s done nothing to dispel any of those notions."

It’s not unheard of for a rookie to backstop his team to the Stanley Cup – and the Ducks are certainly a contender. Antti Niemi did it as recently as 2010 with Chicago. Some of the more memorable rookie goalie playoff performances have come from Montreal Canadiens, who have won the Cup a record 23 times.

In 1971, Ken Dryden, at 23, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP before winning the rookie of the year award the following season. (He only played six regular season games in ’70-’71, preserving his rookie status for ’71-’72.) Fifteen years later, Patrick Roy was 20 when he led the Canadiens to the Cup as a rookie.

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Hayward joined the Canadiens the next season.

"I got to see Pat in the real early part of his career," Hayward said, "as he’d won a Cup, he’d won a Conn Smythe yet he was still really developing his style and his approach and maturing — all of those things."

Hayward said he has only had a few conversations with Gibson but describes him as both laconic and incredibly poised.

"He’s a man of few words," Hayward said. "The master of the seven-second response. But a very relaxed kid. The guys have told me they can’t believe how relaxed he is before he’s going on the ice for a game and these are the NHL players who are observing this kid and that’s the feedback I’ve gotten from them.

"He kind of has that — he exudes that confidence that ‘This is kind of old hat’ and expects he’s going to do well."

Stylistically, Gibson is relatively tall –€“ he’s listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds — and he somewhat unusually plays a hybrid style at times. Hayward said Gibson will make some saves on his feet, which tends to be somewhat rare these days  as most goalies stick to the butterfly in almost all situations, and that he catches a lot of pucks.

"Gibson, to me, is a guy that tries to catch absolutely everything he possibly can," Hayward said. "That’s what I was taught as a goaltender. If you can catch it, there’s no rebound."

On Wednesday at the Staples Center, Gibson has a chance to close out the series and send Anaheim to the Western Conference finals for the first time since the Ducks won the Cup in 2007.

In the playoffs, it can become impossible to discern the true nature of injuries. As a result, it’s difficult to know when or if Andersen will return. If he is able to play –€“ even if it’s for a possible Game 7 in this round — then Boudreau will have an interesting decision to make.

"With Bruce — more so than any other coach I’ve ever seen — he’s not afraid of making bold decisions with his lineup but throughout his lineup," Hayward said.

He already surprised us once simply by starting Gibson.

"It was a gutsy move," Hayward said, "and so far it’s really paid off."