Nobody thought it would take Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron this long to have an impact on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not the goalie himself, and certainly not the scouts that saw Biron as a teenager.
At 18, Biron was on the fast track to NHL stardom. In 1995, he was the Canadian Major Junior Goaltender of the Year and a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres. In 1999, just two years removed from junior hockey, he took his AHL team to the Calder Cup Finals. He also joined the Sabres that spring as their third-string goalie in their run to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final.
But then a combination of things happened to thwart Biron.
Dominik Hasek held the starting job in front of Biron for several seasons and then the team owners fell into bankruptcy and there was an exodus of good players. The season lost to the work stoppage followed and then Ryan Miller emerged as Buffalo's starter.
But at least the Sabres were in the playoffs, making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Biron watched and waited as Miller held the fort for the team, knowing he was just one happenstance from making his debut.
But that opportunity never came and Biron was dealt at the 2007 trading deadline to the worst team in the NHL at that time, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Hey, at least he was a starter!
But the Flyers did a tremendous job of rebuilding and, with Biron supplying solid goaltending, the team returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring. Now, the question was how would the 30-year-old Biron, who had waited so long to make his playoff debut, respond?
After the Washington Capitals beat the Flyers in Game 1, Biron pitched a shutout at Alexander Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Backstrom and the rest of the Capitals' strong offense in the next game. He then won both Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia. After the Flyers stumbled in the next two games, Biron made 39 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory in Washington to advance to the second round.
The Flyers had the Montreal Canadiens beat with a minute remaining in Game 1 in Montreal's Bell Centre when a penalty led to a Canadiens goal and another early in overtime. The loss stunned the Flyers and could have been devastating, but Biron earned No. 1 Star status in Game 2 with a 34-save performance in a 4-2 victory. Biron also made 32 saves in Game 3, another 3-2 win for Philadelphia
So, in no particular order, in Biron’s limited playoff experience this spring, he has helped stopped losing streaks, won on the road, won in OT and won a Game 7.
That would have to be considered a solid answer to any questions about his playoff pedigree, right?
"You always have to answer questions," Biron said. "It's not what you did in Round One or what you did in the first two or three games of a series, it's what you keep doing, moving forward. When you get into the playoffs, it doesn't matter if you've won three Stanley Cups in a row. What are you going to do now? The people's expectation and your own expectation is what are you going to do now?
"There is as much going on going into a Game 3 at home as there was going into Game 2 in Montreal in terms of getting things going in the right direction. We were down 1-0 in Washington and won Game 2. We won Game 7 in Washington after losing two in a row. We were able to do that because there is a sense of urgency with this team that allows us to do that."
Biron’s long journey to this moment has given him a unique perspective on what is going on around him these days.
"Playoff hockey is completely different than the regular season,” Biron says. “I had experienced the playoffs, but never on the ice. I experienced a lot of different things in playoffs, from going to the Stanley Cup Final when I didn't dress because I had just been called up after the Calder Cup Finals. Then, two years ago, we went to the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. I knew what the playoffs meant, how hard the grind is and what it takes, but I was never part of it. So, this is definitely a lot of fun to be on the ice."
And, he has welcomed the opportunity with open arms, responding like a seasoned vet, instead of a wide-eyes first-timer.
"Preparation is the top thing on the off days, practicing and getting ready for the games," Biron said. "During the game, when you're well prepared, you feel good, confident and ready to play. You have a direct impact on the game and that's fun. That's why you play the game.
“When you're sitting on the bench, the off days are easier. You enjoy practice and that's that. But when you get to the game, you're sitting there and you have nothing that you can control. It's like being a fan, except worse because you're sitting there with your teammates, you know the game plan and you can't implement any of that. It's nerve-wracking.
So nerve-wracking, it seems, that Biron could never shut up on the bench.
"A couple of times in Buffalo, they gave me the microphone for the television broadcast because they said I just kept talking and talking during the game. Well, yes, I was so nervous and I needed to get that out, so that was a lot of fun."
Biron gives a great deal of the credit for his success this season – and this spring – to his defensive corps of Kimmo Timonen
, Derian Hatcher, Jason Smith, Randy Jones, Braydon Coburn
and Lasse Kukkonen. He said they work well together, keep the area in front of his net clear and move the puck well.
Timonen says that's the result of a lot of thinking and hard work.
"We watched a lot of tape during the season," Timonen said. "At many practices, we worked with just the goalies and the defense, on breakouts and on making sure we were on the same page. It's paying off. It's all about talking and knowing where a guy is. I know we can do a better job but so far it has been pretty good."
Talking is something Biron does well and it works very well for the goalie in a couple of different ways.
Coburn praises Biron’s communication skills on the ice as being a huge help to the defensemen.
"Marty is an active goalie," said Coburn. "He's a good communicator. He talks a lot out there to us. We have a good idea of what is going on behind us as a result."
But the constant flow of words out of Biron’s mouth isn’t confined to the ice. He is a chatterbox in the dressing room, as well. He talks freely to teammates and to the media, offering his views on anything under the sun.
That discourse seems to keep the goalie loose mentally. Let’s put it this way: he'll never need a sports psychologist because he gets it all out there every day anyway. There are goalies who will not talk on game days. Biron can't be stopped. Nothing stays bottled up inside, festering away at him.
| "If I had to wait seven years for my chance to go out and win it all, win the Stanley Cup, then I'm willing to wait seven years. That's my goal, to win the Stanley Cup." - Martin Biron |
He stays and answers questions until everyone is satisfied and for that he was awarded the team's Yanic Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Biron's work and results have given the Flyers an injection of confidence. They're done worrying about whether they have a playoff-quality goalie because, in their minds, they've got the best possible situation, a goalie who acts no differently in these games than he does in December.
A speeding puck is a speeding puck no matter what month it is.
"That first series against Washington was his first taste of any playoff experience and he did a great job," center Jim Dowd said. "He got better as the series went on. The great thing is, if Marty has a bad game, it just rolls off him and he comes back and wins the next one. That's a good sign. He played great in Game 7 at Washington and he was the difference in Game 2 against Montreal."
While Biron never got the chance to backstop the Sabres, he did have the respect of the organization for which he toiled nine seasons and his success has pleased his old coach.
Lindy Ruff was asked if he thought Biron had passed the test of whether he can be a top-notch playoff goalie.
"I think he did," Ruff said. "I think he answered it loud and clear, even in Game 7, where he didn't make any mistakes. You know, I really feel that that's an important step for them. I thought there were times in the series he had struggled a little bit.
"But, I think getting that playoff experience, getting, you know, the road experience and the home experience, which I feel is different for goaltenders. And then to face the pressure of a Game 7, on the road, and to play as well as he did, I think he's answered the call."
Biron would have loved to have had earlier playoff experience but that didn't happen. He was reminded that the great Johnny Bower, a Hockey Hall of Famer who won four Stanley Cups in Toronto in the 1960s, was quite a bit older than Biron before he got a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sometimes, good things come to those who wait and stay ready.
"I'm a true believer that there is a right time for everything," Biron said. "Sometimes, you go through some hard times, some hard seasons and you feel like things are not getting anywhere but there is a reason for that. Maybe going seven years without playing a playoff game in the NHL was a way of teaching me what needed to be done, how I needed to react to it and it made the anticipation that much greater for me. If that's the case, great.
"If I had to wait seven years for my chance to go out and win it all, win the Stanley Cup, then I'm willing to wait seven years. That's my goal, to win the Stanley Cup."