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St. Patrick hailed as patron saint of stopping pucks

11/22/2004

No one should be considered the greatest at anything because of a wink. But that is not the reason why Patrick Roy is, and always will be, the greatest goaltender of all time.

But "the wink" tells as much of the story of Roy's greatness, his aura if you will, as the shiny numbers that will carry him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Late in overtime in Game 4 of the 1993 Stanley Cup final between the Montreal Canadiens and the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings, Roy was being bothered on the edge of the crease by Tomas Sandstrom. After making another sensational stop on sniper Luc Robitaille, Roy looked up and winked at Sandstrom. Thanks to live television, it was "the wink" seen 'round the world.

Roy and the Habs would go on to win Games 4 and 5, securing an unexpected Cup championship for the game's most storied franchise and a Conn Smythe Trophy for Roy, the second of three he would win before retiring at the close of 2002-03.

At one point in that spring of 1993, Roy won a record 11 straight playoff games. He also won 10 overtime games. And he winked.

The wink told Sandstrom and Robitaille, and in some ways all of the other NHL shooters who would cross Roy's path, that he simply wouldn't be denied.

"I knew Sandstrom was taking lots of shots, but not getting anything," Roy said afterwards. "And I knew he wasn't going to beat me."

He might not win every night (his once great glove-hand flourish was awkwardly slow when the Detroit Red Wings peppered Roy's goal with shots, knocking his Colorado Avalanche from the 2002 Western Conference final), but he knew that most nights and especially on those nights when it mattered most, he had the goods to come out on top. And so did the shooters.

He played in more games than any other goalie (1,029) and recorded more wins (551).

Perhaps those records will some day be matched or broken. Perhaps not. In the end, those are window dressing to the real heart of the matter -- Roy was the best money goaltender of all time.

The numbers say so. So do the memories.

He played in 247 playoff games, a playoff record. His 23 playoff shutouts are also a record.

What's most impressive, though, what ultimately separates the flash in the pans who surface every spring from Roy's blinding greatness, are the wins.

The 151 playoff wins represent another record.

Roy's most likely challenger to goaltending immortality is Martin Brodeur, who has 84 playoff wins and is on pace to surpass the retired goaltender's record for wins and games played if he maintains the same level of consistency for another six or seven seasons. As well, Brodeur is on a similar pace to catch Terry Sawchuk's shutout numbers in about the same number of years.

However, with Roy championing the NHL's clampdown on shrinking the size of goaltending equipment (a stance he just happened to take after announcing his retirement), his hold on such records may be safe.

Others will point to men like Dominik Hasek, great on the world stage, terrific on an average Buffalo team, or Sawchuk, the man whom Roy passed in the record books as the winningest goalie of all time.

There is some merit to the arguments, but they fall short on almost every count.

Roy's win totals, both in the regular season and playoffs, were achieved on the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of NHL teams. Roy won two Stanley Cups with ordinary Montreal teams before winning two more Cups with the talent-laden Avs.

He also seemed to be best when the odds were stacked against him.

Who will forget his rookie appearance in 1986 when he posted a 1.92 goals-against average in 20 playoff games as the Habs stunned Boston in the first round and then beat Hartford in Game 7 in overtime in the division final en route to a Cup win?

In 1993, coach Jacques Demers was under tremendous pressure to pull Roy after the Habs dropped the first two games of their opening round series against Quebec. Demers didn't, and Roy turned in one of the finest stretches of playoff netminding ever.

In the 2001 final, Roy rebounded with a shutout after losing Game 5 at home 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils, then allowed just one goal in the final game. Roy didn't give a wink. Not that he needed to.

The Hockey News Material from The Hockey News.
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