Three unheralded goaltenders were the surprise stars in the playoffs' first round
Chalk it up to the unpredictability of the playoffs or the league's goal-scoring drought, but the three most dominant first-round performances in net belonged to three of the postseason's most lightly regarded keepers. Two of those goalies, the Senators' Patrick Lalime and the Blues' Brent Johnson, had to prove during the regular season that they could hold down starting jobs, and the third, the Hurricanes' Kevin Weekes, wasn't even his club's No. 1 goalie until a week ago.
The statistical disparity between the trio's regular-season and postseason efforts is striking. During the season Lalime, Johnson and Weekes combined for a 2.38 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage; in the first round their combined numbers were 0.80 and .970. Lalime's regular-season save percentage (.903) was 27th in the league and Johnson's (.902) was 30th; Weekes, who was acquired from the Lightning on March 5, did not even qualify for the leader board because he took the ice in only 21 games.
Lalime, 27, who tied a 57-year-old playoff record by turning in three consecutive shutouts in his team's five-game-series victory over the Flyers, benefits from playing behind a trapping defense that helped hold Philly to two goals in the series. "I don't think the Flyers had great chances," Lalime said after Game 5. "Our defense was good at finishing checks and clearing bodies out of the crease."
Lalime, who held off Jani Hurme for the starting job in training camp, had difficulty establishing a rhythm in the regular season and never won more than three games in a row. "He had some ups and downs during the year, but he has made every save he had to in the playoffs," says captain Daniel Alfredsson.
The 25-year-old Johnson, who also tied the postseason shutout mark by blanking the Blackhawks three straight times in St. Louis's five-game-series victory, secured the Blues' No. 1 job in midseason on the strength of a 10-game winning streak. He also finished the season strong, winning five in a row. "I didn't want to burden him with being the Number 1 starter [at the beginning of the season], and I wanted him to prove that he deserved it," says coach Joel Quenneville.
The 27-year-old Weekes, who is playing on his fifth team and has been predominantly a backup in his five-year NHL career, almost single-handedly knocked out the defending Eastern Conference champion Devils. After No. 1 goalie Arturs Irbe faltered badly in Games 3 and 4, Weekes rescued Carolina in Game 5 with a 40-save performance in a 3-2 OT win. He was perfect in Game 6, stopping all 32 New Jersey shots in a 1-0 victory that propelled the Hurricanes into the second round for the first time since 1986.
As for the true measure of Lalime, Johnson and Weekes, only time, and the travails of Round 2, will tell.
Flyers' Disappointing Finish
Dissension in the Dressing Room
A half hour after Philadelphia's season had ended with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Senators in Game 5 last Friday night, Flyers goalie Brian Boucher attempted to explain Pennsylvania's worst meltdown since Three Mile Island. "We were predicted to come out of the East [and play in the finals]," said Boucher. "But if we want to point fingers, that should have been done weeks ago."