With his 40th birthday coming on Friday, Washington Capitals goalie Craig Anderson knows the value of time.
Making it to his 18th NHL season this year was gratifying enough after he signed a professional tryout offer with the Capitals last December just hoping to make the team. It was only four years ago that Anderson was in the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Ottawa Senators.
He turned that offer from the Caps into a one-year contract, spent most of the year on the taxi squad, and had no way of knowing when — or even if — his chance to make an impact for a playoff team would come again.
But he had to stay ready in case it did.
He played in just four games over the course of the season, including a start in the Capitals’ next-to-last game of the regular season. Seeing the playoffs on the horizon and knowing his name might be called, that start was an alarm going off for Anderson.
“Kind of jumpstart the engine there and just kind of reinforce the fact that you do need to be ready,” he said. “You’re one shot, one play away from being the guy in the net. Just trying to fight through the mental battle all year of practicing hard and, you know, showing up every day for the guys to make sure you’re ready to go.”
When the Caps found out their No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov had to be placed on the NHL’s COVID protocols list on Saturday, the Capitals had to navigate uncertainty in the net before Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the Bruins.
Coach Peter Laviolette gave the starting nod to rookie Vitek Vanecek, but when Vanecek sustained a lower-body injury with 6:50 left in the first period, it was up to Anderson to step in.
Anderson wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment. If anything, he was more than ready.
“You could say I’m well-rested for not playing,” he joked.
Making his first playoff appearance since 2017, Anderson stopped 21 of 22 shots and pushed the Capitals to a 3-2 overtime victory in the series opener.
“Coming into the year, I knew the situation, I knew the role that I was asked to do,” Anderson said. “Opportunity knocks, you make the most of the opportunity.”
Despite the murky circumstances going in, Laviolette said he was positive that Anderson could get the job done.
“It was great to see Andy come off the bench and play the way he did in a big game like this,” Laviolette said. “And I don’t think anybody expected anything different. I don’t think we were wondering. I think everybody was pretty confident just based on his career and the amount of starts that he’s had in his career. His numbers have been good his entire life in the National Hockey League and he came off the bench and did what he always does.”
Whether it was his eight saves in the third period or his two stops in overtime, Anderson’s composure in a tight game helped the Capitals keep it together.
“I think the biggest thing is he just was so calm and poised in what he did,” Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s got to be really challenging for any player to come off the bench like that and be forced in that situation.”
Even though it had been a while, the experience that Anderson gained in 46 career playoff games didn’t disappear.
“I’ve been here before,” he said. “So I could share my experiences with Vitek and Sammy. To now get the opportunity to live what I’ve been telling them, it’s just it’s a great feeling to kind of be involved and be a part of it.”
With Vanecek out, Laviolette said he would evaluate the team’s goalie situation on Sunday, but he didn’t expect to have any answers.
“We’ll assess everything and address everything and then probably give you nothing,” he half-joked. “How’s that for honest.”
But Anderson gave him a reason to worry a little less.
“There’s a lot of confidence in all of our goalies,” Laviolette said. “I’ve said this before but our goaltending depth is really good. You’d like to be healthy, you’d like to have everybody available but this is what we’re dealt.
“But I can tell you that there’s a lot of confidence in Anderson … We still feel like we have good depth and we still feel like we have good goaltenders.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.