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Goaltending roulette a hallmark of the 2015 playoffs so far

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks' netminding tandem isn't one of a kind, as nine of the 16 playoff teams have gone to multiple goalies in the First Round. (Getty Images)

Corey Crawford and Scott Darling are in this together, but they are not alone. “One Goal” for the Blackhawks can mean more than one goalie in Chicago and throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as nine of the 16 teams participating the in opening round used multiple masked men.

After teammates arrived fashionably late to Game 1 in Nashville, Crawford grabbed some bench and Darling excelled during a double-overtime victory. When skaters mistook puck drop for 8:45 instead of 7:21 in Game 6, Darling bowed and Duncan Keith again scored the winner for Crawford.

Goaltending roulette was a staple for the Minnesota Wild until they acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes in mid-January. Minnesota was dead in the water of 10,000 lakes, eight points south of a postseason berth. Now, as the Blackhawks and Wild prepare to meet for a third straight spring, Dubnyk is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy and is often mentioned as a candidate for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in the National Hockey League.

Dubnyk, obtained for a third-round draft choice, went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals against average for Minnesota in the regular season. But even he got the hook in a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 before the Wild prevailed over the champions of the toughest division in professional sports, the NHL Central. That occurred a day after the Blackhawks dismissed the runner-up Predators.

Antoine Vermette, who is coming on lately — he won 13 of 19 faceoffs in Saturday night’s clincher — might offer some intelligence about Dubynk, a former Arizona sidekick. But it would be a small sample size, because Dubnyk was a spare part there. Why, as in baseball, complete games are becoming extinct in hockey is a puzzle. However, the Blackhawks’ goalie “controversy” — actually a goalie consortium — exists elsewhere.

  • Petr Mrazek, with no playoff experience, has posted two shutouts against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the league’s highest scoring team. Paging Jimmy Howard.

  • The Blues employed two goalies to replace Ryan Miller, who was peppered by the Blackhawks last postseason, but could not avert a third consecutive first-round exit.

  • Miller, hired by the Vancouver Canucks, could not combine with Eddie Lack to beat the surprising Calgary Flames, who needed two goalies in their decisive 7-4 victory.

  • Andrew Hammond was sensational during a late-season surge by the Ottawa Senators, but ex-Hawk Craig Anderson finished their failed attempt to upset the Montreal Canadiens.

The playoffs thus far have been typically gripping, but predictable in certain instances. The New York Rangers took the Presidents’ Trophy and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, who wheezed into the playoffs. But all four New York wins were by 2-1, thanks to Henrik Lundqvist. The Canadiens live by Carey Price.

But the same can be said about Dubnyk, one of four goalies used this regular season by Minnesota, which used four in 2012-13 and two in the playoffs. In 2013-14, the Wild used five in the regular season and two in the playoffs before bowing to the Blackhawks.

Chicago fans can only hope Dubnyk does not pull a Ken Dryden. In 1971, the Canadiens tabbed him late in the season to tend goal. Dryden perpetrated so many robberies in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks, he should still be making license plates. After Montreal’s championship, he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP. The next season, he won the Calder Trophy as best rookie. Quite a trick.

Speaking of which, the Blackhawks have a zany saga involving goalies. In 1938, despite winning just 14 games, they qualified for the playoffs, stunned the New York Americans, then moved to the Final against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But Mike Karakas, the Blackhawks’ only goalie, broke his toe in the previous series. Dave Kerr of the Rangers was in Toronto, but the Maple Leafs refused to let the Blackhawks borrow him in an emergency. He was too good.

So the Blackhawks sent out a search party for Alfie Moore, an itinerant goalie. They found him in a local tavern. When Chicago’s reps introduced themselves, Moore asked for a ticket to that night’s opener. They had other ideas.

After ingesting hefty amounts of coffee, Moore took the net, yielding a goal on Toronto’s first shot. But he steadied and won 3-1. The Blackhawks took the Cup in the best-of-five series, using three goalies in four games, with Karakas playing the clincher. Moore got his name on the Cup, a $300 bonus and a gold watch.

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