Colorado Avalanche defenseman Raymond Bourque, into his fourth
decade of chasing the Stanley Cup, would return to his stall
after practices last week and tug on a black cap with MISSION
16W lettered on the front. The 16W represents the 16 wins needed
to secure the Cup, but 16W is also the exit off the New Jersey
Turnpike where the defending champion Devils play. Bourque's
Stanley Cap works on two levels, three if you count keeping his
venerable head warm.
In a world of statement games, statement plays and statement
hats, the most important player remaining in the 2001 playoffs is
a goalie who suddenly isn't saying much. With Colorado's star
center Peter Forsberg sidelined until next season following
emergency surgery to remove a ruptured spleen two days before the
start of the Western Conference finals, with the Avalanche's
forwards seemingly having no more idea how to play with a lead
than a frog knows how to play Monopoly, with the fresh and
formidable St. Louis Blues storming his crease, Patrick Roy put
one hand on the Cup and squeezed, stopping 170 of 181 shots in
the series. On Monday night Colorado held up its end in forming
an Avalanche-Devils Stanley Cup finals matchup by eliminating St.
Louis 2-1 in overtime in Game 5, a match in which the Blues
started rookie goalie Brent Johnson in place of the bumbling
Roman Turek. Roy again was outstanding, finishing the job of
transforming a vulnerable team into a nearly impregnable one.
To call what Roy was doing mere hot goaltending would stress the
element of luck over Roy's poise and skill. This masterly work by
a confident goalie was so impressive that even the other
Avalanche players seemed to be standing around watching him half
the time. "This is the same guy people were all over three or
four weeks ago," Colorado winger Shjon Podein said of Roy, who
looked unsteady during a first-round sweep of the Vancouver
Canucks. "Now he's playing some of the best hockey in his career,
which is scary considering he might already have proved himself
the best goalie in history. Anytime you challenge Patrick's
talent and desire, he seems to raise the bar."
Roy's performance against the Blues was near vintage St. Patrick;
he was canonized in Game 3 when a slap shot to the gut by St.
Louis defenseman Al MacInnis seemed as if it could have resulted
in the Avalanche's second splenectomy of the playoffs. The only
element that was missing from the 35-year-old Roy's game was his
usual smart-alecky charm. The wisenheimer who in 1996 said he
couldn't hear Chicago Blackhawks center Jeremy Roenick's
criticism because Roy's two Stanley Cup rings were blocking his
ears now lets his eyes glaze over during the daily
question-and-answer sessions, declining to be engaged. He has
taken the assertiveness he displays on the ice--the superstitious
Roy won't step on lines on the ice, and after the first overtime
in Game 3 he bowled over Blues forward Jamal Mayers, who was
blocking his path off the ice--and strained it into postgame
Still, sometimes Roy, who holds the NHL record for playoff wins
(133), can't help himself. When asked in a postgame press
conference about a spectacular save in Colorado's 4-3 overtime
victory in Game 4--he had caught Scott Young's point-blank shot
midway through the third period, then swept his glove upward in a
Statue of Liberty pose--Roy said jokingly, "I was too fast, eh?"
Considering that Young, a 40-goal sniper, was 15 feet away when
he snapped a shot that most likely reached 70 mph, Roy had
reacted in roughly .14 of a second. Too fast, indeed.
In the Blues' dressing room about 30 minutes later, a downtrodden
Turek finally spoke, not in self-deprecating jibes but in almost
a whisper. Turek is called Large by his teammates, a self-evident
nickname considering that he's 6'3" and 215 pounds, but his
diminutive self-esteem has been an issue since St. Louis was
upset by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of last year's
postseason. In that series Turek was beaten by a flurry of
bizarre goals, including one accidentally tossed past him by one
of his own defensemen, Marc Bergevin. In the wake of the playoff
fiasco, Turek's goals-against average during the regular season
shot up by a third of a goal (to 2.28) compared with that of
1999-2000, prompting general manager Larry Pleau to ponder
trading for another goalie during the winter. Turek is 31 and a
two-year starter on a Stanley Cup-caliber team, but he remains an
insecure wreck, a goalie whose mental state must be monitored
His teammates tried to be supportive last week--"He's the reason
we're here," said center Pierre Turgeon after Game 4, presumably
referring to the Blues' conference semifinal victory over the
Dallas Stars and not the 3-1 deficit to the Avalanche--but Turek
would have none of it. "Who else could be more shocked than me?"
he said. For the second consecutive match his inept play had
buried St. Louis early. "We're always trying to claw back," Blues
captain Chris Pronger said, without singling out Turek. "That
takes a lot of energy and a lot of excitement from us." Like
Sisyphus, St. Louis wore down from pushing the boulder up the
hill, although Turek was so shaky in the first period last Friday
that he probably couldn't have stopped that boulder either.
Roy and Turek both provided textbook playoff goaltending,
although Turek's was the one circled with the red slash through
him. Even in the best of times Turek struggles with balance and
squaring himself to the shooter, and the start of Game 3 in St.
Louis was anything but the best of times. Usually a capable
puckhandler, Turek hurt himself by shooting a puck into the
stands on a clearing pass despite the absence of any pressure.
Sixteen seconds into the ensuing penalty for delay of game,
Bourque blasted a goal through Turek's pads from the blue line on
the first Colorado shot. Two minutes later, Turek, subduing pucks
more than stopping them, diverted the next shot--nothing special
considering that fourth-liner Chris Dingman had rolled it on
net--on his knees, merely shoving it to his right, whence Dan
Hinote slipped a backhand rebound into a yawning net.
The shots Turek botched in Game 4 were of a slightly higher
quality, and his blunders came in more rapid succession. On
consecutive shots during a 78-second span in the first period,
center Steven Reinprecht scored on a backhand when Turek flopped
early; center Joe Sakic slapped in a wobbly, unscreened
40-footer; and Bourque again found the net from the blue line.
St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville pulled Turek in favor of backup
Johnson after the third goal, but only for 1:23, enough time for
Turek to regain his composure. Early in the series Avalanche
coach Bob Hartley, trying to plant a seed of doubt in Turek's
psyche, had twice said that he wouldn't be surprised to see
Johnson play before the series was over.
After those three quick goals Turek gathered himself as he had in
Game 3, during which he preserved a shred of credibility (and
ultimately a 4-3 double-overtime win) by reaching back with his
stick as forward Stephane Yelle's backhand was heading toward an
open net in the first OT and barely deflecting the shot with the
shaft. The puck grazed the outside of the post, a save
necessitated only because Turek had fumbled a routine shot
Two nights later, at the same moment in overtime, give or take
three seconds, and on the same spot on the ice, give or take two
feet, Yelle found the puck on his stick. Colorado defenseman Rob
Blake had knocked down forward Pavol Demitra's clearing attempt
and skated in a stride off the right half-boards before sending a
pass to Yelle, who had gained inside position on Pronger near the
crease. Yelle tipped it in at 4:23 of overtime.
Yelle's goal was the 10th the Avalanche had put past the feckless
Turek in the past three games, but only one had been scored by
one of Colorado's top five forwards--a warning signal for the
Avalanche that was lost in the chasm between the goaltenders in
the series. "We owed Patrick that [goal]," said Dave Reid, one of
the Avalanche's fourth-liners. "He allowed us the opportunity to
get the overtime winner. It was nice to reward him."
Unless the Avalanche's best forwards regain their scoring touch,
the only hat trick in Colorado figures to be Bourque slipping on
his 16w cap. Until further notice, every day in Denver will have
to be St. Patrick's Day.