Goalie swapping a coach's trump card

Updated: April 29, 2006, 1:15 AM ET
ESPN.com

THE MORNING SKATE
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

NEWS, NOTES AND MORE
 

Burke to start Game 5
Coach John Tortorella is turning to Sean Burke in goal for Game 5 as he tempered his criticism of John Grahame. Tortorella placed the blame for his team's problems with Grahame, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 17 shots in Game 4. Burke, meanwhile, hasn't won a playoff game since 2002 and hasn't recorded more than one playoff win in any season since 1988.
Murray vs. Don Cherry
Sens coach Bryan Murray took offense to comments made by Hockey Night in Canada analyst Don Cherry, who criticized Chris Neil for not fighting the Bolts' Chris Dingman and called Neil a "Tommy Turtle." Murray didn't like that Cherry was "[questioning] the character of our players." Murray added that the team has a rule that they can't fight "if we are only up by two goals."



NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES
GOOD
Hurricanes RW Justin Williams: He had a goal and an assist in the Canes' win over the Habs.
BETTER
Flyers center Peter Forsberg: He had two goals and an assist as Philly beat Buffalo.
BEST
Stars defenseman Sergei Zubov: He had three assists to keep his team alive vs. the Avs.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Getty Images
This might be the closest the Rangers come to a Cup as actress and long-time Blueshirts fan Susan Sarandon poses with Lord Stanley in New York City.
FRIDAY'S MOTION
Rod Brind'Amour leads Canes past Habs.
STAT OF THE DAY
20 -- That's how many goals the Ottawa Senators have scored through four games of their series vs. the Lightning. It's the most goals in the first four games of a series since Detroit had 24 against San Jose in the 1995 conference semis.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It's just the way he is, he's the coach, it's his prerogative. Now it's what's best for the team. I think Burkie's going to come in and hopefully give us a spark and make some big saves."
Lightning goalie John Grahame's reaction to coach John Tortorella's decision to bench him for Sean Burke in Saturday's Game 5.