Mendes: Goalie not needed for Cup glory

On Tuesday night in Washington, Brian Elliott’s Ottawa Senators beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 in an overtime game that featured offense from stars like Jason Spezza, Alexander Semin and Alex Kovalev.

In his post-game interview with the media Elliott said, “It wasn’t my best game. But it shows we are becoming a good team when a goalie doesn’t have his A-game and we can still pull out a win.”

His comment may as well be posted on the locker room wall of about 15 teams heading into this year’s playoffs.

Forget the NHL’s flashy ad campaign that says “History Will Be Made”.

The real slogan for the 2010 playoffs?

“You don’t need great goaltending to win the Stanley Cup.”

In the past, saying that would have been sacrilegious in hockey circles. Imagine trying to convince someone seven years ago that the Flyers could win the Cup with Roman Cechmanek. You would have been laughed out of the room.

There was a five-year stretch just before the lockout where the list of Stanley Cup-winning goalies read like a “Who’s Who” of Hall of Fame netminders:

  • 1999: Ed Belfour
  • 2000: Martin Brodeur
  • 2001: Patrick Roy
  • 2002: Dominik Hasek
  • 2003: Martin Brodeur

But in the years since the lockout, the list of goalies to reach the Cup Finals has been more of a “Who’s That?”

In fact, in the 2010 playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury will be the only starting goalie who has actually reached the finals within the last five years.

The others have either faded into obscurity (Khabibulin/Emery/Roloson), are playing for a non-playoff team (Kiprusoff/Ward/Giguere) or have been pushed out of their starting job (Osgood).

The lack of a dominant set of goaltenders is exactly why the Capitals and Blackhawks could conceivably meet in a Stanley Cup Finals, pitting former Habs castoffs Jose Theodore against Cristobal Huet. It’s the type of matchup that would have Jacques Plante rolling in his grave.

But this is the reality of the new NHL. Almost half the teams will march into the playoffs with goaltenders with ZERO playoff experience under their belt.

And the other goalies with more impressive resumes also come into the 2010 post-season with legitimate question marks. A sampling:

Martin Brodeur: The Devils have lost three playoff series in a row and Brodeur has a 5-12 record in those games.

Roberto Luongo: Despite his gold medal performance, he has never advanced beyond the second round of the NHL playoffs in his career.

Evgeni Nabokov: Posted a .890 save percentage in last year’s first-round playoff exit and looked terrible under pressure at Olympics.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Will enter the post-season with rather ordinary numbers during the regular season, including a save percentage that ranks 30th amongst NHL goalies.

About the only goalie who is bullet-proof to criticism is Ryan Miller, who is having an MVP-calibre season and has back-stopped Buffalo to the conference finals in each of his last two playoff appearances.

But here’s the funny thing: Ask fans of the Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens about their preferred first-round matchup and almost all of them would choose the Sabres.

The feeling amongst those fans is that Miller is terrific, but over the course of a seven-game series, the Sabres would not be the better team.

And therein lies the greatest proof of how much the importance of goaltending has fallen in the NHL.

The Ottawa Senators fan base – who have been tormented by mediocre playoff goaltending in the past – would actually choose to face the best goalie on the planet in a seven-game series right now.