Coaches hate players like Montréal Canadiens’ netminder Jaroslav Halak. And if they don’t, they really should. Last night, the guy stops 53 pucks to defeat the Caps and force Game Seven. He’s a hero in Montreal! A hero! Just ten days ago, he was a bum. So much of a bum, that head coach Jacques Martin started Carey Price in Game Four. Today’s NHL coaches never know what they’re getting from night-to-night in goal. Great for the fans. Horrible for coaches.
To review, in Game One against Washington, Halak made 45 saves in a shocking Montreal overtime win. Just two nights later, Halak was el stinkeroo, especially on the Caps’ game-tying goal with 1:21 remaining and again on the very first shot he faced in overtime. Bum.
Canadiens’ bench boss Martin does not suffer alone. Capitals’ head coach Bruce Boudreau began the playoffs with José Théodore between the pipes. José was the man. Had a great comeback season! Less than two games later, Théodore is out. Because he sucked! What is going on? Why can’t these goaltenders turn in decent performances over an entire playoff series?
Can you imagine the anxiety a coach suffers? Which Halak will show up in Game Seven? Which Semyon Varlamov will play? In Phoenix, which Ilya Bryzgalov will Dave Tippett be treated to? Will he get the first star of Game Six v. Detroit? Who knows? One thing’s for sure, Tippett doesn’t have the same luxury that Martin and Boudreau do. Bryzgalov’s back-up is Jason LaBarbera. He hasn’t seen one second of career Stanley Cup Playoff action. Bryzgalov’s the guy. Period.
Halak’s Game Six performance may well be one of the best in Stanley Cup Playoff history. Canadiens’ rookie Patrick Roy made 13 spectacular overtime saves in Game Three of the 1986 Wales Conference Final against the Rangers. Claude Lemieux beat John Vanbiesbrouck on a breakaway to end the game. Or what about Bernie Parent’s 30-save shutout against Boston to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to their first-ever Stanley Cup in 1974? Or maybe it was a combined effort. On April 18, 1987, Islanders’ Kelly Hrudey and Capitals’ Bob Mason combined to make 127 Game-Seven saves before New York’s Pat LaFontaine ended the series.
Even some NHL teams who have advanced can’t rest easy. Chicago’s Joel Quenneville has no idea which Antti Niemi will show against Vancouver in the Conference Semis. How will Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo play? On the other hand, surprisingly, Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette may not have to worry about Brian Boucher.
The consistently good goaltender is dead. Consistency is simply not a prized commodity these days. Ryan Miller was consistently great all season in Buffalo. What did it get the Sabres? Well, thanks to an 0-for-19 power play, the Sabres are done. Miller’s work got them nothing. Today, it’s all about being spectacular for the right game or two. After that, you can stink and we’ll just switch you out. That’s absolutely nuts.
Sleep well, before Game Seven, Jacques Martin, Bruce Boudreau, Mike Babcock and Dave Tippett. I know you will not. Not even close.