Once upon a time, the Toronto Maple Leafs were a very good hockey club.
These Leafs had talent, skill, standup forwards and defencemen and, more importantly, consistently made the postseason. Heck, the team was even considered a Stanley Cup contender at one point.
While the Leafs were a solid team up front, it was their goaltending that made them a true threat. This was the case for some time in the mid- and late-1990s as well as the early 2000s.
Back then, the Leafs had two star netminders in Felix (The Cat) Potvin and Curtis (Cujo) Joseph. With those masked men between the pipes, the Leafs got to the conference finals on a four separate occasions (1993, ’94, ’99, 2002).
Hockey blogger Steve Dangle grew up as a Leafs fan and believes that both Potvin and Cujo gave the Leafs something extra.
“Potvin and Joseph did something that no goalie has been able to do with regularity since the 2004-05 lockout, and that’s steal games,” Dangle said. “They both stole games the Leafs had no business winning.”
We take a look back at how each netminder helped the Leafs come oh-so-close to reaching the Promised Land.
Going into the 1992-93 season, the Leafs believed they were set in goal with Grant Fuhr and Rick Wamsley.
Fuhr started 29 games and went 13-9-4 with a 3.14 GAA, a .895 save percentage and one shutout. Wamsley played just three games and did not fare as well, going 0-3 with a 5.63 GAA and a .835 save percentage.
Clearly, those kinds of numbers were not going to help the Leafs make the postseason or even be considered a contender. That all changed when Potvin was given playing time.
Potvin became a regular for the Leafs between the pipes and was nothing short of outstanding for his hockey club. The Cat played 48 games and went 25-15-7 with a 2.50 GAA (best in the NHL), a .910 save percentage and two shutouts.
Potvin’s strong play between the pipes allowed the Leafs to trade Fuhr to the Buffalo Sabres and pick up a quality goal scorer in Dave Andreychuk, netminder Darren Puppa and a first-round selection (used to draft defenceman Kenny Jonsson). This move officially gave Potvin the No. 1 job, and he ended up proving his worth where it mattered most: the postseason.
That playoff year was a magical one for the Leafs, partly because of Potvin’s excellent play. In getting the Leafs to within one game of the Stanley Cup final, Potvin went 11-10 with a 2.84 GAA, a .903 save percentage and a shutout, helping his team defeat the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, both in seven-games series.
Potvin finished the season as a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year and ended up carrying his strong play into the following season. Potvin was an all-star that season in winning 34 games, posting a 2.89 GAA, stopping .907 percent of the shots he faced and picking up a pair of shutouts.
Potvin took his club back to the Western Conference final, and once again almost got the Leafs into the Cup final. Potvin was even better in this particular postseason as he went 9-9, posted a 2.46 GAA, a .912 save percentage and had three shutouts.
Unfortunately for Potvin and the Leafs, their success in the postseason would not help them the following season (1994-95) or in 1995-96. Both times, the Leafs were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
The next time The Cat would get to play in the playoffs was with the Los Angeles Kings in 2001 and 2002. However, Leafs fan will likely never forget Potvin’s stellar play in his first two regular seasons and postseasons.
After the 1995-96 campaign, the Leafs would not make the playoffs until 1998-99 when Joseph arrived in Toronto.
Prior to joining the Leafs, Joseph was an excellent goaltender for the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers. After the 1997-98 season with Oilers, Joseph decided it was time to move on. He signed with the Leafs as a free agent.
Once Joseph got in net, the team became an automatic contender. Joseph put up excellent numbers in his first season in the Blue & White as he won 35 games, had a 2.56 GAA, posted a .910 save percentage and had three shutouts.
It was in that postseason, however, that Joseph earned his money. He went 9-8, had a solid GAA of 2.43, a .907 save percentage and a shutout in getting the Leafs to within three wins of a Stanley Cup final berth.
For his fine play that season, Joseph was a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s most valuable player as voted by his peers. It was a magical season for both Joseph and the Leafs and one that made Cujo an even bigger star.
The following year, Joseph again had a great regular season (36-20-7, 2.49 GAA, .915 save percentage, four shutouts) and was again a finalist for the Vezina. In fact, when Cujo’s name was not announced as the winner at the NHL Awards show, fans in Toronto displayed their displeasure and chanted his name.
“If you go back and watch Curtis Joseph footage from the early 2000s, he would make his own job harder, flop around, kick out rebounds, but he still managed to come up with the big saves,” Dangle said. “He was always exciting to watch, but probably took years off my life, too.”
It was not until the following season (2001-2002) that the team would once again get close to sniffing a Cup. Joseph got the team to within two wins of the Cup final, but the Carolina Hurricanes ended those dreams.
Joseph might not have won a Cup for the Leafs, but much like Potvin, he certainly came close and provided Leaf Nation with his share of great memories and saves.