While the Flyers'
two-man carousel of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow crashed against Detroit in the
1997 finals—"It helped our team knowing they didn't know which one to go
with," Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom says—that duo did get them
there in convincing fashion. (Philadelphia went 12--3 in the postseason before
facing Detroit.) In 2002 the upstart Carolina Hurricanes reached the finals
because coach Paul Maurice extracted plus performances from the unlikely pair
of Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes. Peter Laviolette, Maurice's successor, won the
Cup in '06 after starting the playoffs with Gerber in net, switching to rookie
backup Cam Ward after Carolina fell behind Montreal in the first-round series,
going back to Gerber for two games in the third round against Buffalo, then
returning to Ward, who went the rest of the way.
you're supposed to have a Number 1 and a backup, but from my experience I'm
fine with a rotation," says Senators defenseman Mike Commodore, a member of
the 2006 Hurricanes. "It's a lot to ask of one goaltender: maybe 25, 26
games, two months of hard hockey, lots of intense games in a short period of
time with lots of travel. As long as you keep your goalies informed so they're
not guessing when they're playing—you don't want goalies flustered—a rotation
THE DIRTY little
secret, one that gives the lie to that second playoff truism, is that the
pedigree of your postseason goaltender matters less than most people think.
While the game genuflects to the well-crafted legend of the playoff goalie, and
Conn Smythe voters adore netminders, the statistical gap among the 16 goalies
expected to start this spring is modest: Their 2007--08 save percentages range
from Ellis's .924 to that .902 of Hasek's. Indeed Brodeur, the postseason
standard-bearer among active goaltenders, thinks a playoff goalie doesn't have
to take it upon himself to win a series or even a Cup; he just can't lose
general manager Serge Savard pushes the counterintuitive argument even further.
He says goaltending might be the least important position on the ice, a
startling assertion given that Savard won five Stanley Cups as a Canadiens
teammate of Ken Dryden in the 1970s and was Montreal's G.M. in 1993 when
Patrick Roy won 10 straight overtime games as the Canadiens captured their 24th
A NEW HOCKEY
truth might be taking shape: It's not that a team needs a great goaltender but
rather one who merely gets hot during the playoffs. Since Brodeur won his third
Cup in 2003, the goalies who played the deciding game in each of the last three
finals have been Nikolai Khabibulin, Kiprusoff, Ward, Jussi Markkanen,
Jean-Sébastien Giguère and Emery. There is no discernible pattern; the list
runs from money goalies (Giguère, Kiprusoff) to seize-the-moment sorts
(Khabibulin, Ward, Emery) to a journeyman (Markkanen). As long as the
goaltending is, as Murray puts it, "above average," the deserving team
should win any given series. Now, occasionally a goalie might surface who
actually steals a Cup the way Montreal's Roy did as a rookie in 1986 and again
in '93, but better team almost always trumps better goalie.
philosophical bent toward cementing a No. 1, pragmatism suggests there could be
bigger upsets this spring than if Osgood wins a Game 7 or if Emery makes it
back into the net. In the opinion of Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien,
who never hesitated benching Marc-André Fleury in mid-series when he coached
him in the minors, Stanley Cup goaltending should be about numbers and not
names. "Performance will dictate play," says Therrien of his postseason
goalie strategy. In other words, even though Fleury earned the Penguins'
starting job by going 10--3 after March 1, backup Ty Conklin should keep
While who's No. 1
has been a dicey issue for some of this season's playoff teams, many would be
well served by looking out for No. 2.