Conference finals: A look at the goalies
The four Vezina Trophy nominees have packed their pads away for the summer.
The Devils' Martin Brodeur, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and the Canucks' Roberto Luongo couldn't stop their clubs from being eliminated in the second round, while Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff (despite putting forth a heroic effort) disappeared from the postseason after just six games.
Four other goalies remain in the hunt for the big Cup. In the coming days, there will be a lot of talk about how you can beat them. We will say things like, "You've got to get pucks to the net," or "You have to get traffic around the crease."
Those things you hear will be true. Those things are the A-B-C's of beating great goaltending at any level. Here are a few more things to consider about the four remaining stoppers:
Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators
The 24-year-old Emery is making his first trip to the conference finals. Last season, he inherited the starting job from an injured Dominik Hasek (more on him later) after the Olympic break. Emery backstopped the Senators to a first-round victory over the Lightning. Then, in the conference semis, he couldn't hold off Buffalo, which took out Ottawa in five games.
This season, Emery won the starting job from high-priced, free-agent pickup Martin Gerber. By season's end, Emery appeared in a career-best 58 games, posting 33 wins, a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. He has carried his strong play into the postseason. In Ottawa's series wins over Pittsburgh and New Jersey, Emery went 8-2 with a 2.04 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
"I think he's found a level of poise, patience and confidence in his play," Toronto Maple Leafs scout Craig Button said. "This year, I think he has solidified the technical aspects of his game."
Emery's biggest problem might be something he can only learn in time. "He doesn't have a lot of games under his belt," Button added. "And this is the first time that he has advanced this far at the NHL level."
Working with goaltending coach Ron Low, Emery has improved his technical skills. He does, occasionally, leave too many rebounds around his net. He'll have to be careful of that against the opportunistic Sabres.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Miller, 26, is making his second trip to the conference finals. Last season, behind an injury-depleted defense, the former Michigan State star backstopped the Sabres to a Game 7 against the Hurricanes. Despite Miller's best efforts, Buffalo couldn't overcome Carolina in Raleigh.
This season, Miller continued to provide strong goaltending for Lindy Ruff's team. In 63 games, he went 40-16-6 with a 2.73 GAA and a .911 save percentage. He has been just as strong in the first two playoff rounds, going 8-3 with a 2.04 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
"Miller is a picture of calm, poise and confidence," Button said. "His focus is strong and he reads situations well. When things get tough, he always seems to keep his team in the game."
Against Miller, you have to try to undermine his calm demeanor.
"You have to find a way to break that," Button added. "If you get a lead, you have to try to expand that lead. He's very good at keeping the game close enough for his teammates to strike back."
The Senators have the snipers capable of striking in bunches. When they get chances, they'll have to be certain to bury them.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Ducks
In 2003, Giguere led an upstart Mighty Ducks team on a magical playoff run that came within one game of a happy ending. Despite falling just short of the ultimate prize (the Devils prevailed), Giguere was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his superb puck stopping throughout that spring.
During last season's playoffs, Giguere spent a lot of time on the bench watching No. 2 man Ilya Bryzgalov, who helped push Anaheim to the conference finals. The Ducks, however, couldn't get past the surprising Oilers.
This campaign, the 29-year-old Giguere re-established himself as the top stopper in Anaheim. He handled the lion's share of the goaltending duties for the first two-plus months of the season before being slowed by a groin injury. He finished the year with a 36-10-8 record (2.26 GAA and .918 save percentage).
A family emergency sidelined him for most of the Ducks' first-round series win over the Wild, but he returned to close out Minnesota in Game 5. He then helped the Ducks oust the Canucks. Thus far, Giguere is 5-1 with a 1.28 GAA and a near-perfect .952 save percentage.
"He's a classic butterfly goalie," Button said. "He wants to get into position and take away as much net as possible."
Detroit's ability to control the puck should help the Wings against Giguere.
Said Button: "They can hold the puck. They'll want to try and get him to go down so they'll have more net to shoot at."
If Giguere does stumble, it will be interesting to see whether coach Randy Carlyle would turn to Bryzgalov. He didn't have a problem making that change last spring. Bryzgalov was 3-1 against the Wild in the first round.
Dominik Hasek, Detroit Red Wings
Seeking a goaltender capable of leading his team on a long playoff run, Detroit GM Ken Holland decided to roll the dice in the preseason on aging and oft-injured Dominik Hasek. The Czech-born stopper, who helped the Wings to a Cup in 2002, was looking for work after the Senators decided not to re-sign him.
Thus far, Holland's gamble has paid off.
The 42-year-old Hasek enjoyed a terrific regular season. In 56 games, he went 38-11-6 with a 2.05 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He benefited from the Wings' decision to keep a close eye on his playing time. They didn't want to burn him out during the regular season. On nights that Hasek didn't start, the club would dress a third goalie to sit behind No. 2 man Chris Osgood. Coach Mike Babcock didn't want to be tempted to put him into a game cold, risking injury.
In this playoff run, Hasek hasn't needed to be sensational. Rather, he's been called upon to make timely stops. He's done just that. In the first two rounds, he's 8-4 with a stellar 1.51 GAA and .930 save percentage. In his last eight games, he has allowed two goals or less.
"He still has an uncanny ability to read plays and situations very well," one Western Conference GM said. "He reacts quickly and he's a hard guy to break down."
The Ducks likely will try to unnerve the sometimes emotional Hasek by driving to the net and crowding his crease.
"He has to keep his composure," the GM said. "If he gets too distracted or starts diving around his net, he'll get himself into trouble."
Hasek might want to be careful with the puck, too. There have been a couple of occasions when his decision to stray from his crease to play the puck have led to scoring chances for the opposition.
"If Hasek keeps his head about him," the GM said, "he's still more than capable of taking that team to the next round."
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