What do Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Terry Sawchuk, and Gerry Cheevers have in common? Most people will tell you they were winners, they were clutch, they knew how to make the big save, they led their teams to multiple Stanley Cups, right? They didn't care about their personal stats or meaningless games. Ever hear the story about Gerry Cheevers skating right out of his net and leaving it empty because he didn't want to get hit by a Bobby Hull slapshot in a meaningless regular season game? Similar stories are often told about all 4 of them - they didn't care if they let in an early goal but they really bore down when it mattered, and they were always there to make the big save for their team at the important points in the game.
But there is another very obvious link between those goalies, and that is that they all played for some of the greatest and most high-scoring teams of all-time. Teams that finished first overall for years in a row, often outscoring the rest of the league by dozens if not hundreds of goals. The '80s Oilers were the highest-scoring team in history, the Islanders dynasty was not too far behind and was much better defensively as well, the Gordie Howe Red Wings were a dominant offensive team that finished first overall in 8 out of 9 seasons, and '70s Bruins were the highest scoring team of all-time after era adjustments. All of these teams were first overall multiple times, and this was even when the goalies were supposedly not caring about their results and saving up for the postseason. So just imagine how good they should have been in the playoffs.
And yes, those teams were good in the playoffs, and so were the goalies, at least when they had Hall of Famers surrounding them. But what if they didn't? What happened then? Grant Fuhr was 26-29 in the playoffs without Wayne Gretzky (and 63-21 with him). Gerry Cheevers was 33-33 in the playoffs (WHA included) without Bobby Orr (and 27-13 with him). Terry Sawchuk was 20-15 with 3 Stanley Cups during his first five years in Detroit. For the rest of his long career, he was 34-33 in the playoffs with just 1 Cup win in the original six era. Billy Smith went 69-21 in a five-year stretch when the Islanders were at their peak, but for the rest of his career he wasn't even the #1 goalie, outplayed in the playoffs by Chico Resch and Kelly Hrudey and posting a 19-15 record on some very good teams. This, of course, raises the question: who was really the clutch player? Billy Smith, or Denis Potvin? Gerry Cheevers, or Bobby Orr?
Guys like Smith or Cheevers are the goalie equivalent of Claude Lemieux or Esa Tikkanen, players that weren't the best in the league but played for good teams and had playoff success. Lemieux or Tikkanen have little chance to make the Hall of Fame, but goalies are evaluated by a totally different (and in my view, ridiculous) standard. Gerry Cheevers never won a major individual award, never made a season-ending All-Star team, and never finished higher than 6th in GAA. But since he played a few seasons with the most talented hockey player in history on one of the highest scoring teams of all-time, he developed enough of a reputation to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
So if those guys were mostly created by their teams, what does an actual money goalie look like? I'd go with Turk Broda as a much better playoff performer than any of the 4 listed above. Broda only once played for a team that finished first in the league in the regular season. His teams rarely led the league in goals for or goals against. Yet he won 4 Stanley Cups, and his winning percentage went from .562 in the regular season to .606 in the playoffs. It doesn't look like Broda was just being carried along by his teams. I don't mean to say either that anyone who played on a great team is just along for the ride. Someone like Ken Dryden, for example, is difficult to fault since he won the Cup every single year that Montreal had a dominant team, the team lost when he wasn't in net, and he has the 1971 Cup run where he beat three better teams in the playoffs. He is certainly different than someone like, say, Fuhr, who only won anything in Edmonton and watched the Oilers win a lot of playoff games with Andy Moog or Bill Ranford in net.
The moral of the story is that perceptions are very biased. People see winners, and they like to make up explanations for their success. If a goalie wins a lot of games or Cups, the reasoning is that they must be doing something right, so they must be "clutch" and making the "big save" and so on. The simpler, and more accurate, explanation can often be found in the goals scored column, something that goalies can do almost nothing about. If we take that account, maybe we can finally stop calling goalies "clutch" just because they happened to be the guy in the net while their Hall of Fame teammates blew away the rest of the league.