Goalie Keith Kinkaid: Devils’ unsung hero in run to playoffs
Not only did he take over in late January after starter Cory Schneider was injured, he carried the Devils over the final two-plus months and heads into their first playoffs since 2012 as the No. 1 goaltender.
Coach John Hynes on Tuesday refused to name his starting goaltender for Thursday night’s opener of the best-of-7 series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There is, however, little doubt – Kinkaid will be starting his first postseason game. The 28-year-old undrafted free agent posted a 19-6-1 record after Schneider went down with hip and groin injuries. He had a 10-1-1 run in the 12 games that led to the Devils clinching a playoff berth Thursday.
From Feb 13 to Apr. 5, Kinkaid had a 16-3-1 mark, a 2.32 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. The win total was the most by an NHL goalie in the span.
”He is a gamer,” veteran center Brian Boyle said. ”He competes. He never gives up on plays, especially down the stretch he has given us a real jolt and lifted us up. He’s been a huge part of our team.”
Kinkaid is never too high, never too low. He lets in a goal, shrugs it off and gets ready for the next play.
It’s not like when Marty Brodeur played and there were chants of ”Mar-tee, Mar-tee” after every big save. Or when Schneider was playing well and chants of ”CORE-EE” filled the Prudential Center. Kinkaid seems to go unnoticed.
The 6-foot-3 goalie acknowledges that a few more fans recognize him lately, and he has been getting more texts.
”I take it with a grain of salt,” he said. ”There is still a lot of work to do.”
Kinkaid said his approach to the postseason won’t change.
”You can’t take this any different from what we did at the end of the season when we had to win pretty much all our games to get in,” said Kinkaid, who got a rare night off in the regular-season finale Saturday. ”It’s no different here.”
Devils captain Andy Greene said the toughest job for a backup – which Kinkaid handled for the past three seasons – is showing what you can do. It’s especially hard when the backup plays in the second game of a back-to-back and his team is tired.
”This time, he knew going in he was going to have some time,” Greene said. ”He worked really hard in practice and you can see just how much more confident he is. Like I said 30 times. He is very square to the puck, confident, and when you are feeling that way, the puck seems to find you. He has been a rock back there and we are just feeding off him.”
Center Travis Zajac, who along with Greene are the only leftovers from the Devils’ team that played in the Stanley Cup Finals, said this is the best he has seen Kinkaid play.
”He has always made big plays, but now he is doing it more consistently,” Zajac said. ”He has given us a chance to win every night. I think that’s the main thing. You just see that consistency in his game, where he is not letting any weak goals in. He is confident now, and that’s a big part of it, too.”
Hynes said Kinkaid has gotten better along the way.
”That’s preparation, his mental focus, his ability to get to a high level, night in and night out,” Hynes said. ”That’s an improvement for him to go from a guy who didn’t play every night to that and perform real well. That has allowed him to take advantage of his opportunity.”
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