TORONTO - After Curtis Joseph broke his hand it was expected that the Toronto Maple Leafs' management would be working the phones to find a proven replacement, ASAP.
It was also thought backup goalie Corey Schwab, who battled his way to a one-year contract at training camp, wouldn't be given the opportunity. The belief was he didn't have enough NHL experience or skill to avoid a tailspin before the playoffs.
Seven starts later, Schwab is settling into his new role sporting a 2-2-3-0 record and talk has turned to the Leafs beefing up the blueline not the goal line.
The biggest reason for the change in public opinion is the fact Schwab has allowed just three goals in his last three games (1-0-2-0). His confidence is soaring and the Leafs have actually improved with him in the net. The team has started to pay more attention to defence and when that sputters, Schwab has been the safety valve.
"He's gaining confidence and his teammates have gained confidence in him," Coach/GM Pat Quinn said after a 1-1 tie with the Philadelphia Flyers. "Those things have to work together. He's been really good, keeping the goals against down. It's a good sight for us to have him step in and do a good job."
Schwab has struggled in two games but both times he was left out in the cold by his teammates. Nerves added to that in his first start, a 4-2 road loss to the New Jersey Devils, when he allowed three goals on seven shots in the opening period.
Less than a week later he was pulled after the first period, allowing three goals to the high-powered Detroit Red Wings. Schwab didn't have much of a chance on any of the tallies and was benched to spark the team not for fault.
Quinn's believes the trade speculation is more a result of Mikael Tellqvist's inability to make the team than Schwab's reputation. Tellqvist was almost anointed the backup job in training camp until it became clear he wasn't ready.
"Everyone seems to have come to the fact that we were doing something anyway and what we were doing was our regular work -- who's available, what do we want," Quinn said. "That somehow has translated into an urgency when Curtis was injured."
I think we still think about our depth. An injury to a guy who plays 60-plus games affects that position and other positions."
Things can change quickly for a goaltender --hero one minute, kicked to the curb the next-- but Schwab has a quiet confidence. Something most goalies thrown into Toronto's hockey scene would never have.
For a man who isn't normally in the spotlight he gives credit to others rather than taking praise. That was evident after earning a point on Tuesday night.
"This was another game where I felt good," Schwab said. "We eliminated their chances and I had to make a few key saves. Our defencemen and forwards are doing a great job of helping out."
Mats Sundin has handled the pressure in Toronto better than anyone and he knew what was in store for Schwab when Joseph went down.
"It's not easy to come in after Curtis. We have to give him credit."