Trio Grand
Three unheralded goaltenders were the surprise stars in the
playoffs' first round

Chalk it up to the unpredictability of the playoffs or the
league's goal-scoring drought, but the three most dominant
first-round performances in net belonged to three of the
postseason's most lightly regarded keepers. Two of those
goalies, the Senators' Patrick Lalime and the Blues' Brent
Johnson, had to prove during the regular season that they could
hold down starting jobs, and the third, the Hurricanes' Kevin
Weekes, wasn't even his club's No. 1 goalie until a week ago.

The statistical disparity between the trio's regular-season and
postseason efforts is striking. During the season Lalime, Johnson
and Weekes combined for a 2.38 goals-against average and a .904
save percentage; in the first round their combined numbers were
0.80 and .970. Lalime's regular-season save percentage (.903) was
27th in the league and Johnson's (.902) was 30th; Weekes, who was
acquired from the Lightning on March 5, did not even qualify for
the leader board because he took the ice in only 21 games.

Lalime, 27, who tied a 57-year-old playoff record by turning in
three consecutive shutouts in his team's five-game-series victory
over the Flyers, benefits from playing behind a trapping defense
that helped hold Philly to two goals in the series. "I don't
think the Flyers had great chances," Lalime said after Game 5.
"Our defense was good at finishing checks and clearing bodies out
of the crease."

Lalime, who held off Jani Hurme for the starting job in training
camp, had difficulty establishing a rhythm in the regular season
and never won more than three games in a row. "He had some ups
and downs during the year, but he has made every save he had to
in the playoffs," says captain Daniel Alfredsson.

The 25-year-old Johnson, who also tied the postseason shutout
mark by blanking the Blackhawks three straight times in St.
Louis's five-game-series victory, secured the Blues' No. 1 job in
midseason on the strength of a 10-game winning streak. He also
finished the season strong, winning five in a row. "I didn't want
to burden him with being the Number 1 starter [at the beginning
of the season], and I wanted him to prove that he deserved it,"
says coach Joel Quenneville.

The 27-year-old Weekes, who is playing on his fifth team and has
been predominantly a backup in his five-year NHL career, almost
single-handedly knocked out the defending Eastern Conference
champion Devils. After No. 1 goalie Arturs Irbe faltered badly in
Games 3 and 4, Weekes rescued Carolina in Game 5 with a 40-save
performance in a 3-2 OT win. He was perfect in Game 6, stopping
all 32 New Jersey shots in a 1-0 victory that propelled the
Hurricanes into the second round for the first time since 1986.

As for the true measure of Lalime, Johnson and Weekes, only time,
and the travails of Round 2, will tell.

Flyers' Disappointing Finish
Dissension in the Dressing Room

A half hour after Philadelphia's season had ended with a 2-1
overtime loss to the Senators in Game 5 last Friday night, Flyers
goalie Brian Boucher attempted to explain Pennsylvania's worst
meltdown since Three Mile Island. "We were predicted to come out
of the East [and play in the finals]," said Boucher. "But if we
want to point fingers, that should have been done weeks ago."

It was a bitter end for the Atlantic Division champions but not
unexpected, given the feeble way in which they finished the
regular season and the team's mounting dissension. That
dissension bubbled over midway through the second period of Game
4 when goalie Roman Cechmanek skated out of his crease after
allowing a goal and yelled at the players on his bench for not
giving him more support. Cechmanek was hooked between periods and
didn't play again in the series. At practice the next day,
several teammates fired shots toward his head during drills.

The Flyers scored just two goals in the series against Ottawa,
and their playoff streak of 320 minutes, 36 seconds without a
regulation goal (dating back to last season and ending last
Friday) set an NHL record for futility. Given the club's $55
million payroll, changes are imminent.

The first casualty could be coach Bill Barber, whose leadership
was privately questioned by his players as the regular season
wound down and whose inability to kick-start a woeful power play
was symptomatic of his failing to wring the best from his
players. Said captain Keith Primeau, "We're not sure what to
expect, or where the blame will be placed."

Seems as if there's plenty of blame to go around.

Pat Quinn's Lineup Follies
Missing a Leaf In Toronto

Because of embarrassing errors by general manager-coach Pat
Quinn, the Maple Leafs played Games 4 and 5 of their series
against the Islanders with 19 skaters instead of 20. After
warmups for Game 4 on April 24, center Mats Sundin said he
couldn't play because the broken left wrist he suffered in Game 1
was too sore. Though Sundin had played in Games 2 and 3, Quinn
had been negligent in not calling up a player from the minors as
a standby, and thus the Toronto bench was a player short.

"The last time I checked," Leafs forward Alexander Mogilny said
with disdain after the 4-3 loss, "you have to have [extra]
people anytime someone's not available."

Two minor league players were summoned in time for Game 5, but
that didn't prevent another screwup. The Leafs' lineup card
submitted before that game--cards are filled out by each team's
coaching staff and given to the officials and the opposing
bench--listed wing Mikael Renberg as a scratch and wearing number
21. But that number belongs to center Robert Reichel (Renberg
wears number 19), and 19 seconds into the match the New York
coaching staff pointed out the discrepancy to referee Paul
Devorski, who correctly disqualified Reichel and sent him to the
dressing room.

While not saying who filled out the card, Quinn at least took
responsibility--and his players got him off the hook by winning

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Johnson, who tied an NHL record with three consecutive playoff shutouts, stopped 116 of 121 shots in five games. COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO

Which Free-Agent-To-Be Would You Rather Sign?

Bobby Holik
A grinder with a deft scoring touch, the 6'4" 230-pounder has
averaged .27 goals and .35 assists per match over his 12-year NHL
career. The 31-year-old two-time All-Star missed only 10 games
over the past six seasons.

Tony Amonte
A speedy skater with a quick release, the 6-foot 195-pounder has
averaged .41 goals and .43 assists per match over his 11-year NHL
career. The 31-year-old four-time All-Star missed only one game
over the past six seasons.

THE VERDICT: Holik's intimidating presence is unmatched among
elite scorers and makes up for Amonte's superior offense. Holik's
our choice.