It's too bad the Colorado Avalanche opted to play Jean-Sebastien Giguere instead of Semyon Varlamov in goal at New Jersey on Thursday -- the fans at Prudential Center would have been treated to perhaps the best shootout matchup since the tiebreaker was adopted in 2005.
New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk has turned into the NHL's deadliest shootout sniper and Varlamov has become a brick wall in the tiebreaker. It's an amazing turnaround for both players, neither of whom had been very successful in shootouts before this season.
Kovalchuk, one of the NHL's most dangerous scorers during the past decade, entered 2011-12 with 11 shootout goals in 42 attempts, a 26.2-percent success rate that's well below the League average of about 32 percent -- and far below what you'd expect from a player with nine straight 30-goal seasons. But with some advice from goaltender Martin Brodeur, Kovalchuk has become a terror in the tiebreaker. He scored for the 10th time in 12 tries against Giguere on Thursday, becoming the fourth player to score 10 shootout goals in one season -- and breaking the single-season mark with his seventh game-deciding goal.