CHICAGO -- Team success can go a long way toward cementing a player's legacy, especially if that player is either the goaltender or captain.
That may seem unfair at times, but it is part of the culture of hockey. One long playoff run can change the perception of a player and a team. And in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a long playoff run usually means reaching the second half of the tournament. Sure, careers are defined by hoisting the Stanley Cup or reaching the Stanley Cup Final, but winning two rounds in a postseason is incredibly hard, and being part of hockey's final four has a lasting impact.
What is the primary difference in the careers of, say, Joe Thornton and Alex Ovechkin, to certain people in the hockey community? Neither has played in a Cup Final, but Thornton's San Jose Sharks have reached the conference finals twice while Ovechkin's Washington Capitals have yet to breach that barrier.
It's a big reason Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS) could be an important marker in the careers of the two goaltenders involved. The captains of these teams, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings, have both won a Conn Smythe Trophy and led their clubs through long playoff journeys.
But Chicago's Corey Crawford and Detroit's Jimmy Howard have not. Both are starting goaltenders for elite franchises that are trying to return to previous levels of success. This game is their chance to be a part of that.
"It's going to be a blast. Starting from warm-ups, you know the crowd is going to be loud. It's going to be a great atmosphere," Howard said Tuesday afternoon. "You can't get ahead of yourself, you can't try to accomplish everything on one shift or one save. It's going to be a grind out there [Wednesday] night, it's going to be a battle, and you just have to stay within yourself."