A No. 1 goalie isn't necessary for a Stanley Cup run | Sam Donnellon
The Penguins-Senators series features two hot goalies who played less than half their teams games.
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY played in 38 games in a regular season that appeared to be his last in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform. Now, at 32, he is being hailed as the single greatest reason for their return to the Eastern Conference Finals, a savior of sorts, a Conn Smythe candidate even.
Craig Anderson, who took two months off in the middle of this season to be with his cancer-stricken wife, mans the Ottawa net and is, both figuratively and literally, the man standing in the way of that possibility.
He stopped 27 of 28 Pittsburgh shots in Ottawa's 2-1 overtime victory in Saturday night's Game 1 against Pittsburgh. His play in a Game 5 overtime victory and the decisive Game 6 victory over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals more than atoned for a dismal performance in Game 4 of that semifinal series.
He played in 40 regular-season games this year. He is going to be 36 next weekend.
You know where I am going with this. It's the annual argument among Flyers fans, this No. 1 goalie feud, fueled and defused annually by what happened in the previous season, and what's happening right then, right now. Steve Mason, a free agent at season's end, complained on his way out that just knowing that he was the No. 1 guy would have aided his game, a refrain that often evokes empathy while lacking much hard evidence.
When the Flyers used three goalies in their unlikely march to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, many said, "Oh, well, that worked out well, let's just try that again." And when a similar strategy flopped so spectacularly a year later, many of those same people said, "Oh, man, we have to get a workhorse like Ilya Bryzgalov. No matter what it takes."
It took trading the two stars who were supposed to be the centerpiece of multiple Cup runs, and the big contracts that were supposed to be cost-effective lockups, but came to impede and sometimes strangle meaningful free-agent acquisitions. And when Bryz became this organization's answer to Broadway's "Spider-Man" debacle, it accelerated an organizational collapse that Ron Hextall was tasked to emerge from when he was hired three years ago this month.
If there was one thing Hextall would seem to know about, we thought at the time, it was goaltending. Back in 1987, he had put the Flyers on his back and nearly won them a third Cup, and if his later Lindros years were marked by an inconsistency that traced to groin issues he is only now conceding, there was no questioning his mettle, toughness or accountability.
Hextall, too, wanted to be a No. 1, and until Garth Snow showed up, he was. As a GM though, Hextall sits squarely in the camp of keeping his options open, and I am with him on that. The accumulation of goalies in the Flyers system - seven at last count - harkens to Sam Hinkie's philosophy about draft picks. The more you have, reasoned Hinkie, the greater chance of hitting it big with at least one of them.
We all love to evoke Martin Brodeur's name, or Patrick Roy's name, or even Braden Holtby's name, as if saying it enough times will make another one appear. But the reality is those type of goalies come along just a little more often than another Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid does.
The truth of the matter is that Cup runs and Cup wins have been made utilizing goalies who weren't on anyone's radar the year before, or were considered expendable. Have a look at Chris Osgood's career sometime. Mike Babcock, the revered Cup-winning coach, has frequently employed two goalies over a season, then rode the hotter one in the playoffs. Boston's Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011 at age 37 after five seasons of shuffling between No. 1 and No. 2 status, with a $5 million contract that was considered untradeable.
That Antti Niemi's name is on a Stanley Cup with the 2010 Blackhawks might be the strongest evidence that if your team is talented enough, most any NHL goalie caliber will do.
Think about it: The Flyers' Michael Leighton was a bad overtime goal and two victories away that year. Brian Boucher, who played in 34 games and spent a piece of the season watching from the press box, was on his way to a Thomas-like run before a knee injury felled him.