Good goalie tales are a huge part of playoff hockey and this year’s first round is full of them. From Simeon Varlamov to a steaming-mad Martin Brodeur, interesting storylines abound.
Brodeur isn’t the only goalie to get bumped this spring – not by a long, cheap shot – but to my knowledge he is the first to completely lose his mind after a play in which he was clearly in the wrong. The NHL’s all-time wins leader is in the Jarome Iginla-Joe Sakic realm of respect, so I’m only too happy to cut him a break on the stick-swinging hissy fit.
But if Brodeur – or anybody else for that matter – thinks Jussi Jokinen deserved a penalty on the play that ultimately led to Carolina’s winning goal in Game 4, I’d be interested to know what the infraction is – two minutes for minding your own business in the general vicinity of the crease? Brodeur was so far out of the net when contact occurred it looked like he was going to see if the right faceoff circle needed a new coat of paint.
We’ve seen instances where attacking players have used the slightest brush with a defender as an excuse to vault toward a helpless goalie. Those plays, if not clear goalie interference penalties, should at the very least negate any goals that result from the netminder being taken out of position.
I would have had no problem with Martin Havlat’s Game 1 overtime-winner being called back after Chicago’s Andrew Ladd was only too happy to drift into Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff. That was a clear case of what I’m going to dub ‘acci-tentional’ contact. But had referees called back Jokinen’s winner Tuesday night, it would have been a sure indication the goalie union has grown too strong.
Speaking of paying dues, can we all agree Montreal puckstopper Carey Price, at 21, is still entitled to some growing pains? That every mistake is inherently more painstaking when committed while wearing red, white and blue is just simple fact. However, it’s hard not to feel for a kid who had heaps of pressure piled on him by the organization, fans and media.
It’s incredible to see how directly expectations are linked to circumstance. Price enters the league with a sparkling resume, including World Junior and Calder Cup championships, and when he doesn’t add an all-by-himself Stanley Cup right away, the perception is he’s falling short of his potential.
Then somebody like Varlamov comes into a situation in Washington where he’s been told, “Just don’t ‘Theo’ us, kid,” turns in a couple strong performances and the confidence swells.
There’s no doubt Price hasn’t been all he can be, but to suggest his career path is in genuine peril based on two playoff performances before his 22nd birthday seems extreme. Roberto Luongo, the best goalie in this year’s playoffs, was 28 before he dealt with the burden of post-season play. That’s an extended grace period Price will never know.
Varlamov, meanwhile, will eventually have to show he can maintain his quality play when the parameters shift from, “Don’t do us in” to “Don’t let us down.”
Getting back to Luongo, he’s got the look of a man on a mission. Strong as he was in his playoff debut two years ago, Luongo’s Canucks simply didn’t have the stuff to fully take advantage of his heroics. This time around, Vancouver can stare down any opponent knowing they have the best in the business right now between the pipes and enough skill and toughness to grind out wins.
It’s a situation reminiscent of the Dwayne Roloson-backed Edmonton Oilers, who rode hot goaltending and balanced scoring to the 2006 Cup final. There’s no Chris Pronger on Vancouver’s blueline, but good as Roloson was, he’s no Luongo in the blue paint, either.
And just to wrap up this catch-all goalie column, Chris Osgood has a 0.67 goals-against average and .974 save percentage after three wins versus Columbus. Questions, anyone?
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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