Taking Wing Career backup Manny Legace gives Detroit a lift as the No. 1 netminder

April 18, 2004

Beginnings have never been Manny Legace's specialty. When his
name was called in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL draft, he was
in a restroom stall at the Colisee de Quebec. Eleven years later,
about a minute and a half into his first playoff start, Legace
nearly wound up back in the porcelain. First, Predators right
wing Adam Hall nudged a rebound past a sprawling Legace 16
seconds into Game 1. Then Steve Sullivan, Nashville's most
dangerous forward, earned a penalty shot 75 seconds later. "That
wasn't the start I was looking for," Legace, who began the season
as the Red Wings' No. 3 goalie, said afterward. "I had just
wanted to play solid. I didn't want to set records or anything
... but I didn't want to be down 2-0 in two minutes either."

With Sullivan bearing down--and with a healthy, $8 million
netminder, Curtis Joseph, watching from the Red Wings'
bench--Legace stood his ground, forcing Sullivan to try to pick a
top corner. He missed wide right, allowing Legace to catch his
breath. From then on Legace would catch or block anything
Nashville mustered, stopping the next 22 shots in a 3-1 Detroit
win. In the back-to-back games that followed on the weekend, he
turned aside 41 of 45 shots as Detroit took a 2-1 series lead
despite an offense that produced just three goals in the two
games. It was exemplary work by Legace, considering he was beaned
by a Mathieu Dandenault shot in practice last Friday. Renowned
among teammates as a scenery chewer, Legace lay flat on his back
for several minutes before leaving the ice. He passed a
neuropsychological evaluation soon after.

Overall, the first week of Stanley Cup play belonged to upstart
goalies. Bruins rookie Andrew Raycroft allowed only a
five-on-three power-play goal as Boston opened with two victories
over the Canadiens, before Montreal came back to take Game 3. The
Flyers' Robert Esche, in his first two playoff starts, outplayed
three-time Stanley Cup winner Martin Brodeur of the Devils.
Another playoff neophyte, David Aebischer, was solid as the
Avalanche opened with two home wins against the Stars. And, of
course, there's Legace, who began the year expecting to play
maybe 10 games but wound up going 14-5-1 over the final two
months after Dominik Hasek quit because of a tender groin and
Joseph injured his ankle. After six years in the minors and
almost five in Detroit as loyal aide-de-camp to Chris Osgood,
Hasek and Joseph, the NHL's Sancho Panza proved he could tilt at
playoff windmills too.

The moon-faced Legace had been comfortable as a backup--almost
too comfortable. "That was my mind-set, to give the team a chance
whenever I was called on," Legace said. He did it well enough to
amass a 75-26-16 record in Detroit, earning the dubious
distinction of being the NHL's best backup. "About a year and a
half ago Manny started to understand he could do more," goalie
coach Jim Bedard said. "He came to the realization, 'I'm not
chopped liver here.'"

Legace missed the thrill of hearing his name called at the draft
in 1993, but now he is serenaded with "Man-ny! Man-ny!" chants
from 20,000 Detroit fans. In hockey, as in life, it's not how you
start but how you finish.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (TOP) Legace stayed sharp against Nashville even after getting beanedin practice.