Goaltending, not coaching, reason for Bolts' exit

Updated: May 1, 2006, 11:27 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Lightning coach John Tortorella has always been a lightning rod for criticism because of his brusque demeanor, but he is nothing if not completely transparent. His motivation has always been about the game, the team, the win, and nothing eats at him like losing. Is that such a bad thing?

He earned the respect of his peers and his team when he called out top players, sometimes benching them, for not producing back in 2003-04. All of a sudden, during these playoffs, when Tortorella suggested it might be nice if he got a save from his goaltenders, people were up in arms.

John Grahame
Grahame
Sean Burke
Burke

But let's be perfectly frank. The Lightning goaltending in these playoffs was junk as their strange lockout-prolonged reign as Stanley Cup champions ended Saturday night in Ottawa.

They had by far the worst netminding of the 16 playoff teams, and apart from a too-little-too-late performance from Sean Burke in Game 5 Saturday, it was the team's most glaring deficiency.

Burke got the Game 5 start after John Grahame, who was pulled after two periods in Game 4 having allowed four goals on 17 shots. In 29 minutes in Game 3, Grahame allowed five goals on 20 shots in an 8-4 loss that took the wind out of the Lightning's sails after it earned a split in Ottawa.

That, far more than the coaching, should be a significant priority for GM Jay Feaster in the offseason.

Another questions facing Tampa GM Jay Feaster in the coming weeks is whether he can find someone who can fill the role once filled so wonderfully by Dave Andreychuk, who, along with his crucial contributions on special teams, was a much-needed buffer between Tortorella and the rest of the dressing room. Does Feaster allow Tortorella to push and prod the Lightning back to contention, or does he need to find another man to pilot the ship?

En route to its Cup win in the spring of 2004, there was a sense of kismet surrounding the team: Martin St. Louis' superstar turn a la Robert Redford in The Natural. Vincent Lecavalier finally realizing his destiny as a No. 1 draft pick. Brad Richards emerging as one of the game's most complete players. Nikolai Khabibulin finally making good on years of promise. Up and down the lineup, players fit their roles like a glove. Andreychuk, the one-time sniper who'd evolved gracefully into a gritty two-way player, was a universally stabilizing element.

When it was clear Andreychuk could no longer keep pace with the new NHL, and he bowed out having played 42 games this season, there was no one to fill that void. Instead, the coach and the players became bone on bone, steel on steel.

It is the way with many elite coaches.

In Detroit, Barry Smith and Dave Lewis acted as a buffer between Scotty Bowman and the dressing room for years.

In Philadelphia, captain Keith Primeau has assumed the role of filter between sometimes acerbic coach Ken Hitchcock and the rest of the team.

Still, if it goes that way, a man with a Stanley Cup on his résumé and the fire in his belly shouldn't have to wait too long for the next door to open.

And what about Ottawa in net?
One of the problems for the Senators in dispatching the Lightning in five games is that they now will have most of a week to fend off more questions about the status of the erstwhile Dominik Hasek.

At what point does head coach Bryan Murray blow the whole thing up by saying that even if Hasek gets game-ready, he won't be the starter? At what point does Ray Emery earn that respect? It says here, he's earned it now.

Few expect Hasek to resurface, but if he does, there's no way Murray can take a chance against Montreal, Buffalo or Philadelphia in the second round to let Hasek work himself into playoff shape after being out of action since mid-February.

Murray should take the mystery out of it now and formalize what is already apparent -- that Ray Emery is the Senators' starter until the end of the playoffs.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.