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Well, we’re finally in the stretch run, with no more teams loading up for the postseason. Now, we can begin to break down the rosters of the teams heading for the playoffs, or those within striking distance of making the playoffs. This week, we’ll look at the goalies, often considered the most important member of the team come April. We’ll analyze each team’s goaltending duo, looking at their performance this season, as well as overall playoff experience. Also, in the event of injuries, minor leaguers will have to be called up to fill the void, so we’ll take a look at them as well.


Let’s begin with the Eastern Conference, and the 9 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots. We start with the Boston Bruins.


Team: Boston Bruins

Tandem: Andrew Raycroft, Felix Potvin

Analysis: Raycroft has been in the top-10 in goals against average (GAA) and save percentage for almost the entire season, and is considered to be a legitimate Calder Trophy winner. Because he is a rookie though, he has no playoff experience whatsoever, which could hurt the B’s in the postseason. Luckily for them, Potvin, who has struggled at times this season, has a lot of playoff experience under his belt, and has carried teams on his shoulders in the past. Look for Raycroft to be given every opportunity to gain the valuable playoff experience, regardless of how the series is going.

Farm Relief: Hannu Toivonen, Tim Thomas

Injuries: None

Rank: 5th in the Eastern Conference


Team: Buffalo Sabres

Tandem: Martin Biron, Mika Noronen

Analysis: Buffalo, currently the team on the outside looking in, is in that spot for a reason, despite being near the top-10 in goals per game. Their biggest concern all year long has been inconsistent goaltending. Biron’s playoff experience has been limited to opening the gate on the side of the bench, while Noronen has no NHL playoff experience at all, and limited time spent in the AHL. It’s going to take a miracle for Buffalo to get in, and an even bigger one to actually win a playoff game with this duo.

Farm Relief: Ryan Miller, Tom Askey

Injuries: None

Rank: 8th in the Eastern Conference


Team: Montreal Canadiens

Tandem: Jose Theodore, Mathieu Garon

Analysis: Theodore has rebounded from a rough 2002-03 campaign, and is posting numbers similar to those of his Vezina/Hart Trophy season. That year, he carried the Habs through the first round of the playoffs, before running out of steam in the second round. If on his game, he singlehandedly could win a round or two for the Habs. His backup in Garon is a concern though; he has not played in a playoff game at any level in 2 years. His current regular season numbers suggest that he could fill in if necessary and do an okay job, but it will be Theodore who determines how far this team goes.

Farm Relief: Jean-François Damphousse, Olivier Michaud

Injuries: Eric Fichaud (AHL-out for the season)

Rank: 2nd in the Eastern Conference


Team: New Jersey Devils

Tandem: Martin Brodeur, Scott Clemmensen

Analysis: Brodeur is the consensus pick for the top goalie in the NHL today, he is amongst the league leaders in goals against average, and his save percentage isn’t too shabby either. He also has 3 Stanley Cups on his resume. Ask any coach in the league who’d they like to have on their team for the playoffs – they’d all answer Martin Brodeur. As for Clemmensen, it hardly seems worth discussing him, as he has a better chance of winning the New York State lottery than making a playoff appearance. That being said, his goals against average is below 1.50, which means he can handle himself in goal, at least for the regular season. This teams lives and dies by Brodeur though.

Farm Relief: Ari Ahonen, Matus Kostur

Injuries: Corey Schwab (NHL-out for the season)

Rank: 1st in the Eastern Conference


Team: New York Islanders

Tandem: Rick DiPietro, Garth Snow

Analysis: It may seem hard to believe, but there actually is a playoff team with a goaltending tandem shakier than Buffalo’s. That would be the Isles’ duo. All season long, they have been trying to find the clear-cut #1, but have yet to do so. More than likely, the Islanders will let the youngster DiPietro take the reins in the first round. DiPietro has struggled at times this season, but all in all hasn’t fared too badly this year, at least for a sophomore player. Snow, the veteran, has struggled all year long, and has yet to find consistency in his game, except in being consistently inconsistent. It appears the Isles will make the playoffs, but it would be a stunner to see them go past the first round this year.

Farm Relief: Wade Dubielewicz, Dieter Kochan

Injuries: None

Rank: 9th in the Eastern Conference


Team: Ottawa Senators

Tandem: Patrick Lalime, Martin Prusek

Analysis: The consensus pick to win the Cup this year, the Senators now have many doubters, and it’s certainly not because of their offense (#1 in the league). The reason for concern has been their goaltending. Lalime was expected to lead the team to the promised land, but isn’t even the clear-cut #1 anymore. Lalime’s GAA and save percentage are misleading, because of the team in front of him, his performance is not as good as the numbers imply. He has been prone to allowing the soft goals this season, something that will kill the Sens in the playoffs. Prusek has been the better of the two this season, however, he too has struggled as of late. Prusek may see some postseason action, but Lalime will be given the ball and be told to run with it. The looming question lies within: How long until he drops it?

Farm Relief: Ray Emery, Billy Thompson

Injuries: Prusek (NHL-DTD (slight back problems, won’t be a concern for the playoffs))

Rank: 7th in the Eastern Conference


Team: Philadelphia Flyers

Tandem: Sean Burke, Robert Esche

Analysis: Goaltending has been a concern for the Flyers in past seasons, so they brought in Jeff Hackett to relieve the problem, but then he retired midseason squelching those plans. So they traded for “the next best option,” that being Burke out of Phoenix. And now, goaltending is an even bigger concern, with Burke floating with 3.00+ GAA since arriving. Burke has some playoff experience, but very little success. Then there’s the backup in Esche, who is near the top-10 in GAA and save percentage. He has no experience in the postseason, but Flyer fans are confident that this will not be a problem. As for who starts in the first round, your guess is as good as mine, some think the veteran will get the nod, but I think Esche will start, given Burke’s performance in Philly thus far.

Farm Relief: Antero Niittymaki, Neil Little

Injuries: None

Rank: 6th in the Eastern Conference


Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

Tandem: Nikolai Khabibulin, John Grahame

Analysis: The surprise Lightning seem to have everything going for them so far this season, from offence to defence to even goaltending. Khabibulin, the consensus #1 doesn’t have the numbers like his counterpart in Grahame, but is a reliable, fairly proven playoff netminder, who will assuredly be named the game one starter in the first round. Grahame’s playoff experience is limited (0-1 record lifetime), however, he can get the job done. His numbers thus far this season are outstanding for a backup (#2 in GAA, almost top-10 in save percentage), which means that he could be counted on to fill in and do a half-decent job, something that many other playoff teams wish they could say about their backup netminder.

Farm Relief: Evgeni Konstantinov, Brian Eklund

Injuries: None

Rank: 3rd in the Eastern Conference


Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

Tandem: Ed Belfour, Trevor Kidd

Analysis: Goaltending for the first time in a while in Toronto has become a concern, not because of the play of their top goalie, but because of his health. There’s no doubting that Belfour is an elite goalie when he is healthy, but that ‘when’ is slowly becoming an ‘if’. It’s no secret that Belfour is practicing just once or twice a week to rest his ailing back, which remains nowhere near 100%. If Belfour can remain healthy, the Leafs should go far in the playoffs. If Belfour goes down, then the reins are passed on to Kidd, and eventually, their demise. Kidd has not lived up to even the lowest of expectations, and cannot be counted on to take the team anywhere, except for the golf course, and even then, I’d be feeling a little leery. To summarize, if Belfour stays healthy, don’t count the Leafs out, but if they have to use Kidd, they’re toast.

Farm Relief: Sebastian Centomo, Jamie Hodson

Injuries: Mikael Tellqvist (AHL-out indefinitely), Belfour (NHL-back-will be a concern for playoffs)

Rank: 4th in the Eastern Conference


*If all of the number one goalies were unable to perform, then the ranks would be as follows: (Factors: Current performance, playoff experience, overall potential)

1) Philadelphia

2) Tampa Bay

3) Montreal

4) Boston

5) Ottawa

6) Buffalo

7) New York I.

8) Toronto

9) New Jersey


Of course, these are only the goalie rankings, and are not necessairily the overall team rankings heading into the postseason.  Click here for the Western rankings.

Questions/comments?  E-mail me at [email protected].