EDMONTON — One Vezina Trophy-calibre goalie down, one to go.
The first was unquestionably the NHL’s best goalie last year, the second is a three-time runner up for the prime puck-stopping prize.
And while Talbot and his teammates will watch the two battle with great intrigue Sunday afternoon to determine Calgary’s next dance partner, the Flames veteran insists he doesn’t see the matchup moving forward as being an individual challenge.
Unlike some goalies, Talbot doesn’t go into games focused on outplaying his counterpart.
“No, for me it’s just about playing my game and being as calm and composed as possible to give us a chance to win,” said the 33-year-old Hamilton-area native.
“I can’t really worry about what’s going on at the other end. It’s out of my control. My focus is on myself and helping us win.”
It certainly worked in the qualifying round when he allowed just six goals against a high-powered Jets squad, compiling a .945 save percentage to be anointed series MVP by coach Geoff Ward.
Yes, the series that was supposed to be all about Hellebuyck ended up being trumped by Talbot.
After out-battling David Rittich to be named the Flames’ Game 1 starter one day before the playoffs, he out-duelled 31-game winner Hellebuyck, whose only consolation will come in the form of this year’s Vezina.
Not bad for an Oilers castoff who finished in Philadelphia last year hoping someone around the league would give him a chance to resurrect his career.
“It has been a long journey,” said Talbot, whose third career playoff shutout punctuated the four-game disposal of the Jets.
“The last couple years didn’t really go the way I wanted it to. I was looking for that kind of redemption year. When you look at this lineup and I had the opportunity to sign here, it was kind of a no-brainer to play behind a group like this. I knew that if I could come in and get back to playing my game and get some confidence back, I could prove I can be a starting goaltender in this league.”
Kind of like three years ago when he tied for the league lead with 42 wins in Edmonton, yet was somehow overlooked as a Vezina finalist.
Fast forward through two painful seasons on two bad clubs (he wound up in goalie-graveyard Philadelphia late last season) that led to unrestricted free agency when he inked a one year ‘show-me’ contract with Calgary to ride shotgun with Rittich.
By season’s end he was the better goalie who, more importantly, outplayed Rittich in training camp 2.0.
“It was a huge confidence boost for me when the coaching staff and the guys had the confidence in me to go with me in Game 1,” said Talbot, who made the same $2.75 million Rittich made.
“I just tried to go in and give us a chance to win and make that decision look like a good one. I’ve got to thank them for that opportunity, and I’m trying to take it and run with it for now.”
Stopping 104 of 110 Winnipeg shots in the qualifying round, he enters the first round with significant momentum, not to mention the respect of teammates who could count on him whenever their formidable defensive structure broke down.
“We have full confidence in Talbs right now and it’s a good feeling as a player to really trust your goalie as much as we do now,” said Sam Bennett, one of 11 Flames players to score in the series.
“He’s been outstanding and I’m sure he’s going to be for the rest of the playoffs as well.”
Noted for his calming demeanor and solid positioning, Talbot rarely had to come up with the sort of spectacular saves Miikka Kiprusoff was noted for.
Against Winnipeg he made it look much easier than it was, giving further confidence to his troops.
“He stepped up big time — he was great for us the whole series, making lots of big saves,” said Sean Monahan, whose top line aided in the cause with a more concerted defensive focus.
“He’s got confidence back there too. He’s a veteran guy and he wants to win — he did a great job.”
But can he do a better job than the man who led St. Louis to the Stanley Cup last year? Or can he outplay the tallest goaltender in NHL lore, who used his size in Dallas last year to be a Vezina finalist once again?
Binnington and the six-foot-seven Bishop will face off against one another Sunday for the final seeding game of the Western Conference, with neither of their teams having posted a win in two tries.
The winner of that game plays the Flames as early as Tuesday.
The Blues were 3-0-0 against the Flames this year, while the Stars were 1-1-1.
NOTES: Ward said Johnny Gaudreau practiced with the Flames Saturday and “is fine.” Gaudreau left with four minutes to go in Game 4 against Winnipeg, favouring his right hand after a collision along the boards with Nikolaj Ehlers.