Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goaltending Wins Championships and Another 18 Year Old Pro?

With only 10-13 games left in the season for each team we are on the verge of my favorite time of the year. While the playoff picture has gotten slightly more clear over the last few weeks, there are still a number of teams that are forced to play playoff style hockey right now, if they want an opportunity to play it come April.

Goaltending wins Stanley Cups. It's just that simple. The old adage is "defense wins championships" but while it certainly helps in the playoffs, goaltending is the ultimate X-factor and last night there were multiple goaltending performances worth mentioning, including the aforementioned Carey Price and his 38 shot shutout. The one that stood out the most to me was Martin Biron and the Philadelphia Flyers.

After being one of the best teams in the East this season the Flyers are now desperately hanging on to the 8th spot after free falling through the standings about 3-4 weeks ago. The Flyers faced the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are truly in a must-win situation every night from here on out. After failing to perform the large scale fire sale, which was intended to include their captain Mats Sundin, Toronto has suddenly come alive. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and 7 points out of the 8th spot. I'm sure a number of Leafs fans are wondering why the team couldn't do this earlier, why they had to wait until the very end to start playing well, and why a team in desperate need of rebuilding wouldn't just throw in the towel and purposefully put them in a great position for the Steve Stamkos sweepstakes. The Maple Leafs are certainly in an uphill battle to make the playoffs, but they are also on the downhill slope to ruining their draft pick and I wonder how Leafs fans feel about this right now. Would you rather your team throw in the towel and look towards the future? Even if they make the playoffs, do you think they can do well? In some ways, it'll more heartbreaking if the Leafs just barely miss the playoffs as it'll take them out of the running for a prospect in next year's remarkably deep draft and Toronto went a long ways towards doing that last night.

Toronto flat outplayed the Flyers last night outshooting them 30 - 12 through the first two periods. However, goaltending was the ultimate equalizer as Martin Biron had a shutout going into the third while Vesa Toskala had allowed 2 goals on 12 shots. Unlike Montreal, who repaid their goaltender's efforts with a great third period, the Flyers fell apart. Daniel Briere scored first to make the game 3-0 but Mats Sundin scored 3 and a half minutes later to make it 3-1 and then the game seemed to change. With a little less than 7 minutes left in the game Pavel Kubina scored followed by Jeremy Williams 3 minutes later to tie the game. Toronto ended up with 21 shots on goal in the third and forced overtime, where with less than a minute left Pavel Kubina would score again. Martin Biron ultimately made 51 saves to Toskala's 22, but it wasn't enough to get the Flyers anything more than a single point. The two teams face each other again tonight and I can't imagine Biron being on goal. Not because he played poorly, obviously he was pretty amazing, but because after facing 55 shots he probably needs a few days off.

Corey Crawford, another young goaltender, also had a great performance in net last night keeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the game against the Detroit Detroit Red Wings by making 44 saves on 46 shots. It wasn't enough as the Red Wings buried an open net goal to win 3-1. However, it appears that Chicago may have a new starting goaltender next year as this kid is showing that he's ready. What does that mean for Nikolai Khabibulin and his bloated salary?

One other note, Darren Pang mentioned that Kyle Turris may be coming to the Phoenix Coyotes once his season at Wisconsin concludes. Kyle Turris was drafted third overall by the Coyotes and Gretzky was incredibly high on the young man going into the draft and many thought he would be picked 1st over Patrick Kane. Luckily for Phoenix, that didn't happen and they were able to secure the player they wanted most. Turris is only 18 years old, stands 6'1 and hasn't quite filled out yet at only 170lbs. Regardless, he has world class skill and led the Canadian World Junior team to the goal medal with four goals and eight assists. The college season ends in mid-March, so Phoenix could receive a big boost to their playoff hopes if the kid decides to turn pro. After beating Anaheim last night, Phoenix is clearly a talented team on the verge of great things.

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