Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney went from benchwarmer to hero on Sunday.
The backup netminder was thrown into Game 2 against the New York Islanders midway through the second period after starter Petr Mrazek suffered a lower-body injury, and he put on quite a show.
McElhinney stopped all 17 shots that came his way as he backstopped the Hurricanes to a 2-1 victory to take a 2-0 series lead, and his performance served as a reminder that while the role of backup goalie isn’t the most glamorous position, its importance cannot be overstated.
Don Cherry has long preached the importance of the position, dating back to his time behind the bench in Boston when he leaned heavily on Bruins backup Gilles Gilbert, who he called “the greatest backup of all time.”
“Remember I said you have to have a good backup? What he does is he wins the game,” Cherry said of McElhinney during Coach’s Corner Tuesday night. “He absolutely wins the game. He’s fantastic.”
Believe it or not, this was just McElhinney’s third career playoff appearance. He previously appeared in a game with the Calgary Flames back in 2008-09 and again last spring with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 35-year-old will make history in Game 3 Wednesday night in Carolina as he’s set to become the oldest goalie to make his first Stanley Cup Playoff start.
McElhinney, who was claimed off waivers from Toronto back in October, is also coming off his busiest season to date. He went 20-11-2 in 33 starts — just seven fewer than Mrazek — with a 2.58 goals against average and .912 save percentage in 2018-19.
“As you go into the playoffs, guys have got to be rested,” Cherry said. “They’ve got to be anxious to get in there, they can’t play all those games in a row.”
“You have to have a backup goalie,” he said.
Mrazek, who had been excellent down the stretch and in the post-season so far, is listed by the team as day-to-day.