Matt Murray stepped onto the ice on Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Playoffs, ready to lead the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup once again. He failed to drop the puck.
An injury during warm-ups ruled him out for a month and gave the job to Marc-André Fleury. Murray returned over a month later and helped the Penguins win another title.
Five years later, Murray looks to the Colorado Avalanche knowing what it’s like to be Darcy Kuemper, who could be in goal for the Stanley Cup Final after missing most of the third round and surrendering the place to the replacement Pavel Francouz.
The Avalanche, one of five teams in league history to have won at least five games in a playoff series, have two different goaltenders. The Avalanche are trying to join the Murray Penguins, the 1972 Boston Bruins and the 1969 Montreal Canadiens as the only champions to split the duties in the slot. .
“I know from first-hand experience how difficult it can be to step in when you haven’t played in a while and you didn’t necessarily expect to play that much,” Murray said. “What Kuemper was doing is obviously very impressive but also extremely impressive what Francouz did as well. You just try to be ready as much as you can.
Much like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in 2010, Colorado’s situation has been determined by injuries. Kuemper inadvertently took a stick in the eye through his mask in the first round and was again substituted for Francouz midway through the Western Conference Finals opener when he was not feeling good.
Kuemper and Francouz have now each won six playoff games. The Avalanche need four more wins for the franchise’s third championship and first since 2001, and coach Jared Bednar won’t say who will start Game 1 of the Finals next week.
“It’s a tough decision,” Bednar said.
Having to choose between Kuemper, Colorado’s all-year starter, and Francouz, who has a perfect 6-0 record, is one of the drawbacks of a two-goalie rotation in the playoffs.
“It’s a good situation to have two goalkeepers, but it’s a bad situation to ask ‘Which goalkeeper should we start?’ said Michael Leighton, who won eight games to Brian Boucher’s six in the Flyers’ run to the Finals in 2010. “It’s a tough situation for the coaches and for the team because sometimes a team plays better in front of one goalkeeper and not the other, so you have to make the right decision in putting the goalkeeper who is going to help you. to win.”
Leighton helped Philadelphia complete the rare comeback after losing 3-0 in a series to knock out Boston after missing eight weeks with a sprained ankle. “When I jumped into that match, my knees were shaking,” he said.
Boucher made two more relief appearances the rest of the playoffs despite playing on two bad knees with a sprained ligament in each.
“I wasn’t even close to 100%,” Boucher said. “But I wanted so badly to be part of something that I wanted to see through.”
They look to Francouz and consider it an advantage that the 2018 Olympic star for the Czechs saw action against Nashville in the first round before being thrown into a series against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers. Edmonton.
“If he goes months without playing, it’s a totally different story,” Boucher said. “You’re trying to catch a moving train that’s going 100 mph, and it’s tough. Now at least he’s moving. He’s moving to catch that train instead of standing still.
For goaltenders like Francouz watching the entire St. Louis series in the second round and then Kuemper missing much of the Western final, practice becomes essential. In a time when full team practices are rare and stoned players often choose not to skate, those who have done it know it takes a focused approach to be ready.
“It’s just about taking practice very seriously and playing like it’s a game: competing on every puck and bringing a game mentality to practice,” said Murray, now in Ottawa. “That’s the best way to go, because it’s maybe a bit less of a transition to the game. And really, at this point in the season, it all depends on your mentality.
Francouz stayed mentally ready and soaked up the chants of “Frankie! Franky!” from the Denver fans. “I’m just trying to enjoy this moment,” he said, “because it’s something you work for your whole life.”
Colorado’s next opponent will be a team that got there with the much more traditional route of starting a goaltender every playoff game. The Tampa Bay Lightning led Andrei Vasilevskiy to back-to-back championships, and the New York Rangers reached the Eastern Finals on the back of Vezina Trophy finalist Igor Shesterkin.
The Avalanche made do with it, but having an elite goaltender remains the preferred option.
“Any head coach would rather have that, knowing that every time he puts his name on the roster card, it’s going to give him an A-plus quality start, as opposed to two guys you’re not just not sure,” Boucher said. “If you don’t have a goalkeeper, you have nothing.”
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