Goalie swapping a coach's trump card

4/29/2006 - NHL


In Carolina, Peter Laviolette looks like a visionary.

In Tampa Bay, John Tortorella looks, well, like a man at the end of his rope.

Both have played the coach's playoff trump card, the yanking of the starting netminder. It is a card played sometimes on a hunch, often against the bleakest of backdrops, but a card never played lightly.

"The down-side [of making a switch] isn't as great as the upside," former Carolina coach Paul Maurice told ESPN.com on Friday.

If you lose, you're no worse off, he said. If the second guy steals you a game, or even a series, then the guys in the locker room are so pumped it even allows you to go back to your starter if the understudy gets hurt or hits the wall, said Maurice, who is currently coaching the AHL Toronto Marlies but is the odds-on favorite to be the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs next season.

He should know.

In 2002, Maurice was the master puppeteer, manipulating netminders Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes in a fine dance that saw the surprising Hurricanes advance to the team's first and only berth in the Stanley Cup finals.

The Hurricanes opened the playoffs with two home wins over New Jersey with Irbe in net, but dropped the next two in Jersey.

"Two games in a row, he had no luck," Maurice said.

So, feeling a bit of pressure to reverse the trend and sensing the series was slipping away from his team, Maurice gave Weekes his first playoff start and the netminder denied the Devils in the final two games of the series.

Weekes remained the starter in the second round against Montreal. Then, trailing 2-1 in that series and down 3-0 in Game 4, Maurice put Irbe back in. The Hurricanes stormed back to win the game in overtime and the happy Latvian led them to the finals.

"Kevin just stopped being lucky. He wasn't bad," Maurice said.

Because Irbe hadn't cost the team any games early in the playoffs, it was a seamless transition to go back to him without giving the appearance Maurice had no confidence in either goalie. In fact, the opposite was true.

And there's the rub.

If players have lost confidence in a goalie, if they cannot play with a sense of comfort that every shot is going to end up in the back of the net, then that's it. A coach has to make a move.

It was so in Game 2 of the current Montreal-Carolina series when Laviolette pulled regular-season hero Martin Gerber, who had given up nine goals on 34 shots in less than four periods of playoff action. In his place, rookie Cam Ward has been sensational, leading the Hurricanes to two one-goal wins to tie the series. He has stopped 50 of 53 shots in the two wins with the series returning to Carolina.

Meanwhile down in Tampa, Tortorella has finally had enough of John Grahame, who has given up nine goals on the last 37 shots he's faced and was yanked in both of the last two games. The Bolts have been pounded 8-4 and 5-2 by Ottawa, which now holds a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Sean Burke will get the start in Game 5 on Saturday although some feel Tortorella was scapegoating Grahame for the Bolts' woes.

"You don't throw a player under the bus," former netminder and popular analyst Glenn Healy told ESPN.com on Friday. "Public humiliation went out a long time ago."

"If I'm Grahame and they asked me to play, I'd say no," Healy added.

Like Maurice, Tortorella only hopes he gets the opportunity to make such a demand.

-- Scott Burnside