EDMONTON — The series began with Colorado starter Philipp Grubauer injuring himself just 23 minutes into Game 1. It was an omen of hard times ahead for the masked men.
Throughout this series, led 3-2 by the Dallas Stars over the Colorado Avalanche, five goaltenders have seen the crease as these teams burn through crease jockies in a Western Conference Round 2 series unlike any we’ve seen before.
“It is weird,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “It’s bubble hockey.”
These teams are averaging nine goals per game but if you’ve ever played bubble hockey, you can attest to the fact that trying to manoeuvre the goalie into making a save is nigh impossible.
Every Canadian knows that your best bet is simply to shoot early and often, and win the next round of beers on offence, not defence.
Sound familiar, Jared Bednar?
“It’s a race to five (goals),” the Avalanche head coach said. “That’s the way this series is going.”
As the teams await a Game 6 on Wednesday, neither coach was willing to reveal which goalie they would be starting. Perhaps for fear of anxiety setting in.
The only bit of info came from Bednar, who admitted that Grubauer, with a suspected groin injury, is not available.
Dallas reverted to their No. 1, Ben Bishop, in Game 5 after he had been on the shelf since mid-August with an injury. It was a calamitous move as Bishop couldn’t stop the proverbial beachball, getting pulled after four goals in the opening 14 minutes.
“He had played in one of the earlier (playoff) games,” explained Bowness. “He had practiced for a couple of days. Felt really good, looked sharp in practice, so…. Yeah. When your No. 1 goalie comes to you and says he’s ready and he wants to play, that makes the decision a little easier.”
So, if Bishop says the same thing again leading into Game 6, would Bowness show him the same loyalty? Or will he go back to a known commodity in Anton Khudobin, perhaps the best No. 2 in the NHL today?
“It will be a group discussion, as it always is,” said Bowness, shifting the blame away from his netminders. “If we’d have played that poorly in front of Anton, the result probably would have been the same. We’re pointing the fingers at the wrong thing. You’ve got to point the finger at the five guys in front not doing the job. Not competing. Not working.
“That’s where my issue is. The starting goalie is not the issue.”
Across the bubble, Bednar’s team is without their No. 1, while No. 2 Pavel Francouz was pronounced unfit to play for their Game 5 win. And Francouz wasn’t good enough when he was healthy in the previous games.
So No. 3 Michael Hutchinson made his first-ever NHL playoff start and won a crucial Game 5. It was a feel-good story for a night, though we’ve been around long enough to know that feel good stories may win in Hollywood, but seldom in the National Hockey League.
“Whoever is in between the pipes for us we have full confidence,” said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, as one would expect. “Whoever is in net we’re trying to make their job easier by getting some goal support. That start that we had, (Hutchinson) was able to settle down and settle in. After all, he hasn’t played since March.”
Landeskog spoke of the allegiance the players had for Hutchinson, and how far they were willing to go for him. And if you think that is odd for a goalie who has only started two games for the Avs, then you should listen to what the eloquent Landeskog had to say about the loyalty that exists among hockey players.
“It’s ingrained in us,” he began. “Whoever is in that locker room we’ll do everything we can to back them up, to protect them, to stick by one another. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here for us — if you’ve just been traded and it’s your first game. Once you step on that ice and we’re all wearing the same uniform, and you get dressed in the same locker room, you become family. You become brothers. That’s just the way it is.
“Hutch has been a great teammate. We’re going to keep working hard in front of him.”
In Dallas, they’ve even talked about playing third-stringer Jake Oettinger. Just in case.
“Throughout this, with Bish’s injury, we’ve had some discussions about giving Jake a start. But he hasn’t played a second of NHL hockey,” laughed Bowness. “These are interesting discussions that we have.”