Posted: Tuesday July 25, 2006 2:18PM; Updated: Tuesday July 25, 2006 6:29PM
Mikael Tellqvist may finally get his chance to shine in Toronto, with Ed Belfour gone and Andrew Raycroft coming off a shaky season.
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Going to the backup goalie during a playoff series is typically a sign of disaster, and one that the golf clubs are being dusted off. But this year things changed dramatically when Carolina's Cam Ward and Anaheim's Ilya Bryzgalov were inserted between the pipes in the middle of their respective opening-round series and proceeded to carry their teams.
About to go down two-love, Caniacs must have interpreted Ward's appearance against the Canadiens as a sign to focus solely on NASCAR. After all, Ward had fewer than 30 games' experience and a bloated 3.68 GAA that ranked 46th among the 47 netminders who qualified for GAA leadership. Two months and 15 wins later he was hoisting Lord Stanley's chalice and skating off the RBC Center ice with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
With Anaheim trailing its opening-round series against Calgary three games to two, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the 2003 Smythe winner, was not given the opportunity to pull his team out of the hole. Instead, coach Randy Carlyle turned to the rookie Bryzgalov, he of 33 career appearances. The young goalie promptly went on a Giguere-like run while lifting the Mighty Ducks to the Western Conference finals.
But the sudden changing of the guard -- for the better -- was not limited to Ward, Bryzgalov and the playoffs. Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Peter Budaj, Vesa Toskala and, to a lesser extent, Antero Niittymaki were among the netminders not initially thought of as the go-to guy but who became No. 1 goalies or shared the responsibility when the pressure was mounting.
The way the backups responded last season is enough to alter the mind-set of the coaching fraternity about how No. 2 goaltenders are handled. Coaches should now be less reticent to remove their No. 1 in favor of a backup no matter what point in the regular season or playoffs it might be. What was once a controversial move can very well be a job-saver.
Though there is more goalie-shuffling on the way during the offseason, here are five goalies with little, if any, starting experience in the NHL but who have the potential to alter their team's fortunes in 2006-07.
Jimmy Howard, Red Wings: Detroit general manager Ken Holland once said that Howard has the most potential of any goalie the Red Wings have drafted. Depending on how the situation unfolds in Detroit with respect to obtaining a No. 1, that potential may be on display on a consistent basis sooner rather than later in Hockeytown. The former star for the Maine Black Bears was shuttled back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids (AHL) last season, and he sported a 2.99 GAA in his first four NHL matches.
Jason LaBarbera, Kings: Mathieu Garon was the No. 1 for the Kings last season, but the 26-year-old LaBarbera made a strong case for himself when called upon. Though he played in only 29 games, his GAA (2.89) and saves percentage (.900) were better than those posted by Garon, who totaled 43 games in four trials with the Canadiens before landing in L.A. With Garon's 3.22 GAA and a new coaching staff in place, his role as No. 1 is not guaranteed next season.