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NHL players are refining bank shot off the masks of goaltenders

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Off the goaltender’s mask, off a defenseman’s back, nothing but net. Well, at least in the net.

That is how Colorado’s Casey Mittelstadt got his first goal of the NHL playoffs this year, and it is not the only one. Several players have scored by ricocheting the puck in off a goalie’s head, including Dallas’ Evgenii Dadonov against Vegas earlier this week.

It is an art that is becoming more and more refined as skaters find ways to score against the best netminders in the world. Sniping goals in from near-impossible angles — Mario Lemieux was remarkable at it — is now common and even expected for NHL forwards. Maybe banking shots in off a goalie’s mask was the inevitable next step in a league that saw its first “Michigan” — the lacrosse-style goal done from behind the net — only in 2019.

“Some guys seem to be really good at it,” New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey said. “It seems like some guys are starting to perfect it.”

Goalies say they have learned to expect it, or at least not get salty about pucks intentionally directed at their noggins, a notable concern in hockey as the league has taken steps to cut down on concussions and other head injuries.

“You’ve got to be prepared for anything,” Washington’s Charlie Lindgren said. “You see shooters are so good now where all they need is the smallest little corner.”

Mittelstadt’s goal, batted out of the air, clanked off the front of the mask of Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, one of the league’s best goalies, off Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon and into the net.

“Interesting way,” he said. “I haven’t scored very many like that in my life, but (I will) definitely take it, for sure.”

After Dadonov shot from a bad angle off the mask of the Golden Knights’ Logan Thompson in the Stars’ Game 4 victory, Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger theorized that half the goals this time of year are about just getting the puck on net and hoping you get a good bounce.

“Just throw pucks at the net and you’re going to score dirty goals like that in the playoffs,” said Oettinger, who also made two big saves with his mask in winning Game 5.

Colorado counterpart Alexandar Georgiev speaks for his masked brethren when he says he doesn’t mind when opponents take aim for the back of his helmet in games. That is just part of the deal.

If Avalanche players do it in practice? Not so cool.

“Guys do a really good here with trying to avoid the mask in practice, at least,” Georgiev said. “When it’s the game, it’s part of the game. It doesn’t bother me. The equipment is pretty good, luckily.”

Georgiev, whose team is pursuing its second championship in three years, has tried different mask brands over the years, settling on a commonly used heavier Bauer model with “no complaints” when it comes to safety.

“It works great,” he said. “I feel the one I’m using now is is very solid and blocks of the shots pretty good. You don’t feel the impact that much.”

Dallas’ Jason Robertson tried to beat Thompson with a shot off his mask in Game 1 of their series. In hindsight, he wishes he would have tried something different. That’s because it’s so rare to score that way.

“When you just have time, pick your head up, see if it can happen,” Robertson said. “I think goalies understand. It’s tough now. … The goalies are good.”



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