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When Arturs Irbe faltered, Kevin Weekes came in and saved their playoffs. But that's rare. More often, it's one hot goalie strapping the team to his back and carrying the day.
"It was a nose dive, a swan dive, a double gainer. I was surprised he didn't flip backward on the ice when he did it."
-- Florida coach Mike Keenan, on Buffalo's Daniel Briere, who drew a penalty on Olli Jokinen and then proceeded to score the game winner on the power play.
|Tampa Bay goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. He is 11-0-3 in his past 14 starts.|
|Rangers forward Alexei Kovalev. He has gone nine straight games without a point.|
Last spring it was Red Wings netminder Dominik Hasek, who also took a good-but-by-no-means-great Buffalo team to the finals in 1999, leading his team to glory. A season before that, it was future Hall of Famer Patrick Roy standing tall for Colorado. In 2000, it was Martin Brodeur who stepped up and whose durability and stellar numbers make the Devils a strong contender for Cup success again this year.
The Red Wings won back-to-back Cups using a different goalie each year, with Mike Vernon the top dog in 1997 and Chris Osgood carrying the load in 1998 as the Wings knocked off Philadelphia and Washington, respectively. Both of them were 4-0 sweeps.
The last trip to the finals for the Flyers, whom many believe could be the best bet along with Ottawa to come out of the East this year, was that 1997 run, which started out surprisingly and ended disastrously. Then-coach Terry Murray decided to start Garth Snow instead of the netminder everyone -- especially the team -- thought would get the nod -- Ron Hextall.
Hextall was believed to be the No. 1 guy, but in retrospect, Hextall said it turned out he wasn't.
"Obviously if (Snow) started the playoffs there wasn't one at the time,'' said Hextall. "I don't really know the thought process that went into it. I never pursued it. For me, as a goalie, it's about playing. I was disappointed at the start, and it was an awkward situation at the time. Garth and I are good friends, and obviously we both wanted to play. I think we both probably expected me to start.''
Count Hextall among those who think the goaltending-by-committee approach is a bad one. He said it has a domino effect on the rest of the team.
"Obviously, we went to the finals that year, so it worked pretty good for us,'' he said. "But I'm not a big fan of that. I think you should start with the guy who was your guy and then if things don't work out, you go to the other guy because I think you can lose the (goalie) you consider your guy if you don't start him.
"The other guy doesn't expect to play. If he happens to go in, so be it. If you don't start your starter, you're telling him something at the start of the playoffs. So if you go with your starter and things don't work out, then you stick the other guy in and there's no harm done.''
But what if you don't have a bona-fide No. 1? Of the eight teams that either already have or will make the postseason in the East -- Ottawa, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington, Boston and the Islanders -- only Boston doesn't have a No. 1 goaltender, although there has been concern expressed over the sore groin that Flyers goalie Roman Cechmanek has been playing with. They're just praying it doesn't go from nagging to a flat-out, postseason catastrophe.
With no clear No. 1, the Bruins are hoping a combination of Jeff Hackett (nursing a broken finger), Steve Shields and perhaps Andrew Raycroft can propel them into the second round and perhaps beyond.
"(General manager/coach Mike O'Connell) is open to whoever is going to perform the best,'' said Bruins assistant general manager Jeff Gorton. "I don't think he's ruling anything out at this point. Right now it looks like Steve is the guy, and he'll get his chance in the next few it looks like. Hopefully, he can get on a roll. We're just looking for somebody to get on a roll. We still have confidence. I know Shields has won a playoff round against Detroit with San Jose so he has proven that. He's been a good goalie for a number of years.
"Andrew's not quite as proven, but he's played well while he's been up. Obviously, we made the trade for Hackett, and we think a lot of him, too. I think it's just a matter of a guy staying healthy enough to get on a roll. If we can get that going, I know we're running out of time here, but hopefully we can and that'll be the guy. If not, I guess we'll go by committee until somebody establishes himself.''
|“||Martin is special in the way he approaches the game. I don't think there are very many guys who approach the game the way he does. He's probably one of the few who can get away with playing that many games. And he's on a good team so he's winning a lot of nights. ”|
|— Former Flyers goalie Ron Hextall|
"I think he went through a little bit of a slump,'' said Gorton. "Right when he got hurt, he was coming out of it. He played great in the game he got hurt. He's probably more disappointed than anybody because he hasn't played the way he knows he's capable of. But we fully expect him to be what we thought he could be. We think he's a No. 1 in the league.
"It's a matter of getting on a roll. Our team wasn't playing well -- our team defense -- and he was under siege there for a little bit. He paid the price. I don't think anyone is blaming him or has lost confidence in him. We think he's a good goalie. I understand he hasn't played as well as he did in Montreal. But we fully expect that he will.''
The danger of goalie by committee is that it appears the front office/coaching staff are crossing their fingers and just hoping. The Hurricanes, when they made the switch, felt as if they didn't have a choice. The Bruins have choices; they just don't honestly know for sure what their best one is given Hackett's injured status. The uncertainty isn't an asset going into the postseason; it is more of a liability.
In Hextall's view, a decisive choice is the best one.
"I think it's hard on everybody,'' Hextall said. "You tell your team, you tell everybody 'He's our guy.' And that's the way it goes, and if things break down, then obviously you make a change. But I believe in going with one guy.''
Interestingly, the Islanders were so confident in Snow and backup Rick DiPietro, they dealt Osgood to St. Louis.
Then, there is the issue of how much is too much. Brodeur is a workhorse and Nikolai Khabibulin in Tampa has been one also. But Khabibulin was overworked, which is why the club dealt for John Grahame. If a team isn't confident in a netminder, it has a bad effect, but if a team relies too much on its No. 1, is that too much in a different way?
"I think Brodeur's probably a special situation,'' said Hextall. "If he's not the best, he's certainly right there. Even in that situation, you look at it. (Corey) Schwab's played good, he's got good numbers, and he still hasn't played. Can one guy play too much? I think a guy can. I'm not saying (in Brodeur's) situation. He's proved in the past he can play a lot of games. For a lot of guys that's a lot of hockey.
"Martin is special in the way he approaches the game. I don't think there are very many guys who approach the game the way he does. He's probably one of the few who can get away with playing that many games. And he's on a good team so he's winning a lot of nights.''
Hextall said it's great to give a goalie the ball and let him run with it. The challenge is in defining that, especially given the length of the season and the grueling nature of the playoffs.
"What's giving the guy the ball?'' he said. "I think 65 games or 60 games is giving the guy the ball. You start talking 75, that's a lot of hockey.''
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.