Friday, May 4, 2007

The NHL is trying to kill me

Another night, another double overtime west coast game. At this point, I'm surviving on Red Bull, coffee, and the occasional scrap of food. I might have a heart attack before lunch.

And you know what? I wish the whole year could be like this.

In light of what's happened in the past week, I'm going out on a limb and making what some folks might call a ludicrous assessment (especially after the series ending goal last night in Anaheim).

The sun has set on the Martin Brodeur era. Roberto Luongo is now the best goaltender in the NHL.

Assessing goaltenders is a difficult thing in the regular season. There are a plethora of talented players at the position, many of whom could stake a claim to the Vezina trophy as the league's best goaltender in the regular season at their position. That's what makes the playoffs so great. The playoffs reveal truth, plain and simple.

In the playoffs, the measure of a goaltender is simple. Can you put your team on your back and carry them in games they have no business competing in. And this year, in his first Stanley Cup playoffs, Roberto Luongo may as well have been Atlas, carrying the weight of the entire world on his shoulders and not just that of a mid-sized west coast Canadian city.

Vancouver should have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Heck, without Luongo they may not have even been there to begin with. They had neither the talent nor the temperament to compete with Dallas or Anaheim. And yet every game Luongo gave them a puncher's chance. All they had to do was play the game as best they could and the man between the pipes gave them a shot at glory. And the load that he carried was absolutely unbelievable.

In 2 rounds of playoff action totalling 12 games, Luongo played a total of 847 minutes. That's more than 2 FULL GAMES of extra time. And he was stellar throughout. He sits 3rd in save percentage, with only JS Giguere (who no one can dispute has the best defensive corps in the game in front of him) and Marty Turco, the man Luongo outduelled to knock out of the playoffs above him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end for one of the best goaltenders of all time. It's something that had to happen sooner or later, but has been shocking to witness nonetheless. Martin Broduer has gone to the well so many times, carried so many teams to the promised land, and broken so many opposing players' hearts that we expect nothing short of greatness from him every game. Until this playoff year, he's never come up empty. And yet it's happening.

This year, Brodeur sits 11th in playoff goals against average and save percentage.

Let that sink it for a little while.

And it's not just the numbers that tell the story. Brodeur has been beaten by several average shots in both of the Devils series, and even a couple of even lower quality. He has been stellar at times, but has lacked the consistency that has been a hallmark of his hall of fame career. It seems that the heavy workload and father time may finally be catching up to Brodeur. He may yet have a stellar performance or two left in him, but the days of Brodeur as a dominant force in the NHL playoffs look to be over.

I always expected Roberto Luongo to be the heir to the throne once occupied by Martin Brodeur, and Patrick Roy before him. I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

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