Changing of the guard

One of the most intriguing storylines heading into this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs was the number of teams with starting goalies who had little or no playoff experience.
In the lead up to this year’s playoffs, it seemed as if every hockey analyst was reading from the same script: “This is a good team, balanced scoring, good defence, but it remains to be seen if they have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup.”
Of the 16 teams that qualified for the post-season, only three (Calgary with Miikka Kiprusoff , Anaheim with J.S. Giguerre, and New Jersey with Martin Brodeur) had goalies with any notable playoff success.
A few hockey fanatics might point out that Detroit’s Chris Osgood won the Cup in 1998 and, therefore, the Wings had a goalie with previous playoff success, but I refuse to accept the argument for a couple of reasons.
The first is that Osgood was a back-up this year in Detroit and the chances of him seeing the ice in place of Manny Legace were slim to none.
The second reason is that Osgood has never been very good. I firmly believe the Wings won the Cup in 1998 despite Osgood’s performance.
Head coach Scotty Bowman may have done his greatest coaching job ever hiding Detroit’s deficiency in net that season.
Right about now casual hockey fans undoubtedly are asking themselves, “What’s the big deal? Who More from C1
cares if most of the playoff goalies were inexperienced and unproven
going into the post-season.”
The answer is quite simple really—the goalies have made this year’s playoffs one of the most exciting in recent memory.
It’s no secret that goaltending in hockey is the single most influential position in professional sports.
Football teams have won championships in the NFL, and to a lesser degree the CFL, without a significant contribution from the quarterback or running back positions.
Baseball teams have won World Series championships without an ace in the pitching rotation.
The formula for success in the NBA usually involves having two star-calibre players at any of the starting spots, but it doesn’t matter at what position the talent is located.
However, it is next to impossible—aside from the Osgood example mentioned earlier—to win the Stanley Cup without a standout between the pipes.
Need proof? In the past 10 years, there have been seven Stanley Cup-winning goalies, namely Martin Brodeur (three times), Patrick Roy (twice), Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood, Ed Belfour, Dominic Hasek, and Nikolai Khabibulin.
Four of those goalies—Brodeur, Roy, Belfour, and Hasek—are locks for the Hall of Fame when they become eligible.
Vernon won two Stanley Cups during his playing career with Calgary and Detroit, respectively.
The verdict is still out on Khabibulin. He had a miserable first season with the Blackhawks but just about every player in the Chicago organization had a miserable season this year.
He was, however, an integral part of Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup victory over Calgary before the NHL lockout.
So with the exception of Osgood, every Stanley Cup-winning goalie of the past decade was better than average. Which brings me back to why this year’s post-season has been such a revelation.
The NHL no longer is dominated by the same select group of goalies who have carried their teams every year for the past decade or so. Instead of familiar names like Belfour, Hasek, and Brodeur, fans are getting to know Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller, Cam Ward, and Vesa Toskala.
The unfamiliar names have led to unexpected teams making meaningful playoff runs. Carolina, Buffalo, Anaheim, and either San Jose or Edmonton in the conference finals? Are you kidding me?
But perhaps the most symbolic moment of these playoffs took place Sunday night in Carolina.
As I watched Cam Ward shake Martin Brodeur’s hand having just outplayed his boyhood idol en route to eliminating the Devils from the playoffs, I couldn’t help but think the new era of unbeatable goalies had officially arrived.
Change is good, and I am thoroughly enjoying watching it occur.

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