- Terry Frei, Special to ESPN.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jose Theodore has twice followed Patrick Roy into the net -- first in Montreal, and then in Colorado. In both cases, there were interim seasons before Theodore stepped into the creases in question, so the pressures, while monumental and potentially daunting, weren't because of direct lines of succession.
And now, a little over two years after Theodore -- and his three-year, $16-million contract -- came to the Avalanche, he is attempting to shore up his reputation with the sort of postseason performance that enabled Roy go into retirement still known as one of the greatest "money" goalies of all time.
After Theodore's remarkable turnaround in the New Year, he had 28 saves in the Avalanche's 3-2 overtime win over the Wild on Wednesday in the first-round series opener in the Xcel Energy Center. It was one of those nights when the number of saves was misleading; he kept Colorado in the game on a night when Minnesota outplayed the visitors for most of the night.
"Winning the first game was important, but the toughest games are to come," Theodore said Thursday after practice. "We saw that they are a real skilled, fast team, so I'm sure in the next one, they'll come really hungry."
This is Theodore's sixth playoff run overall, and just his fourth as an undisputed No. 1.
"The games play the same way," he said, "but with more intensity, and they're a lot faster. I think, in the playoffs, you get extra energy, an extra push, and you play like it's your last game of the year, or last game of the season ... You kind of realize when you're in, how fun it is to play."
Even those Roy rubbed the wrong way over the years -- and that club has many members, including many who joined it only recently because of the Roy & Son fiasco in Quebec -- conceded his overall brilliance in the playoffs. On the day off, Theodore certainly conceded that without reservation, sounding more like the kid he once was than the goalie he has become.
"It's not fair being compared to the best goalie in the league," Theodore said. "Nobody should be compared to him. When I say 'nobody,' I mean nobody in the league. He's in a class by himself. Obviously, as a goalie, yes, I have tried to look at what he's done and try to do the same things because he played so well under pressure ...
"I remember growing up in Montreal, he was cocky, but in a good way. He would be playing real well. He's a goalie that did so much for the game. He's in a class by himself."
It was all part of the Roy package. His arrogance. His shamelessness. His bring-it-on attitude. His frequent "who-me?" bursts of denial about soft goals, which made his occasional admissions of terrible play so surprising. His willingness to accept and luxuriate in acclaim and credit, whether that led to him accepting the Conn Smythe Trophy -- as happened three times -- or not, as when teammate Joe Sakic won it in 1996. His single-minded quest for Terry Sawchuk's career regular-season victories record, because while so many elements and standards in the game changed, there was one constant -- wins. Wins meant Roy had allowed in fewer goals than the guy at the other end.
Asked to compare the differences and similarities in the two goalies' personalities, Sakic -- still a Roy friend -- smiled his way through the answer, with memories obviously rolling in his memory ... but not off the tongue.
"Well, I think Patrick..." Sakic began, before pausing.
"Well," he added, "Theo's a lot more laid back than Patrick."
"Patrick, you know, he was very focused and really prepared himself like that," Sakic said. "Theo's more laid back and just relaxes out there."
It's not that Theodore has avoided controversy. He was accused of celebrating his 2002 Hart Trophy victory with an offseason that left him ill-prepared to stay at that level in 2002-03. He suffered a fractured heel in a fall outside his home in early 2006. There was fallout from the actions of family members. He was criticized for being seen with members of motorcycle clubs and People magazine cover glitterati. He flunked a pre-Olympic screening because of Propecia, which the International Olympic Committee bans because it can be a masking agent.
He has been able to find the spotlight -- whether he wanted it or not.
But don't you sense that after all of this, when you at least temporarily disregard team allegiances, Theodore has become a nice, little story -- the slight-of-build goalie on the rebound who at least has folks nodding and saying, wow, they didn't think he had this renaissance in him?
"I felt as good as I ever felt in my career," Theodore said. "I think I have more experience now. A lot of times during the season, if the team was coming back, I didn't panic, which maybe earlier on in my career, I would panic a little bit more ... I wouldn't really say it's being in a zone, because it's pretty much what I've been feeling since January. Like I said early on when I started to play, it's not about being in a zone, it's about playing the way I can. And that's what I'm doing now."
Theodore can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and at this point, it's difficult to imagine anything short of a Conn Smythe/Stanley Cup tandem that would lead Colorado to offer him another three-year deal in the same salary range. But stranger things have happened, especially considering a little over a year ago, he was wearing a baseball cap and watching from the bench as Peter Budaj held down the No. 1 job during the Avalanche stretch run that fell just short of securing a playoff berth, and it seemed likely Colorado would buy out the final year of his deal. Even after the Avalanche decided to bring him back, citing his good-soldier attitude when he wasn't playing, he had some awful stretches this season and coach Joel Quenneville seemed to have little faith in either Theodore or Budaj.
And then Theodore rallied.
"He seems composed, he seems confident," Quenneville said Thursday. "His quickness reflects his anticipation ... Recapturing that confidence from his earlier days is something that we were hoping he could reacquire. I think right from the outset, he got the right approach, handled it well, and I think [goalie coach Jeff Hackett, Theodore's former Montreal teammate] and him had a real nice, a real good relationship. They were working on him feeling good in the net. And when he got the net at a critical time, he just seemed to keep improving."
Theodore shrugged when the issue of his recovery was raised again.
"People around the game, people that follow this, should make their own opinion," he said. "For me, it's clear in my mind, but I don't have to say it."
But will be say he's playing for a contract?
"I never play for a contract, not in my whole life," he said. "I've been playing since I've been 5 years old, and I've never played for a contract. So certainly, this year I'm not going to start playing for a contract. I'm playing for my teammates and myself. And the fans and everybody. I don't want to be specific. I'm just saying I'm playing for the enjoyment."
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."
Jose Theodore followed Patrick Roy to Colorado, but his tenure in Denver hasn't been as successful. Is he finally turning a corner? It seems that way. Just don't make those comparisons.