Beginnings have never been Manny Legace's specialty. When his name was called in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL draft, he was in a restroom stall at the Colis�e de Quebec. Eleven years later, about a minute and a half into his first playoff start, Legace nearly wound up back in the porcelain. First, Predators right wing Adam Hall nudged a rebound past a sprawling Legace 16 seconds into Game 1. Then Steve Sullivan, Nashville's most dangerous forward, earned a penalty shot 75 seconds later. "That wasn't the start I was looking for," Legace, who began the season as the Red Wings' No. 3 goalie, said afterward. "I had just wanted to play solid. I didn't want to set records or anything...but I didn't want to be down 2-0 in two minutes either."
With Sullivan bearing down—and with a healthy, $8 million netminder, Curtis Joseph, watching from the Red Wings' bench—Legace stood his ground, forcing Sullivan to try to pick a top corner. He missed wide right, allowing Legace to catch his breath. From then on Legace would catch or block anything Nashville mustered, stopping the next 22 shots in a 3-1 Detroit win. In the back-to-back games that followed on the weekend, he turned aside 41 of 45 shots as Detroit took a 2-1 series lead despite an offense that produced just three goals in the two games. It was exemplary work by Legace, considering he was beaned by a Mathieu Dandenault shot in practice last Friday. Renowned among teammates as a scenery chewer, Legace lay flat on his back for several minutes before leaving the ice. He passed a neuropsychological evaluation soon after.
Overall, the first week of Stanley Cup play belonged to upstart goalies. Bruins rookie Andrew Raycroft allowed only a five-on-three power-play goal as Boston opened with two victories over the Canadiens, before Montreal came back to take Game 3. The Flyers' Robert Esche, in his first two playoff starts, outplayed three-time Stanley Cup winner Martin Brodeur of the Devils. Another playoff neophyte, David Aebischer, was solid as the Avalanche opened with two home wins against the Stars. And, of course, there's Legace, who began the year expecting to play maybe 10 games but wound up going 14-5-1 over the final two months after Dominik Hasek quit because of a tender groin and Joseph injured his ankle. After six years in the minors and almost five in Detroit as loyal aide-de-camp to Chris Osgood, Hasek and Joseph, the NHL's Sancho Panza proved he could tilt at playoff windmills too.
The moon-faced Legace had been comfortable as a backup—almost too comfortable. "That was my mind-set, to give the team a chance whenever I was called on," Legace said. He did it well enough to amass a 75-26-16 record in Detroit, earning the dubious distinction of being the NHL's best backup. "About a year and a half ago Manny started to understand he could do more," goalie coach Jim Bedard said. "He came to the realization, 'I'm not chopped liver here.' "
Legace missed the thrill of hearing his name called at the draft in 1993, but now he is serenaded with "Man-ny! Man-ny!" chants from 20,000 Detroit fans. In hockey, as in life, it's not how you start but how you finish.