Maybe it's the unpredictable shinny-ness of playing in the Great Outdoors. Maybe it's the huge TV audience that magnifies every move made. Whatever the reason, goalies have provided many memorable moments in the NHL's annual Winter Classic.
So, as we inch closer to the fifthinstallment, here's my list of the Big Game's five most memorable masked–men moments:
It was cold, flurries were fluttering, and the inaugural Classic in Buffalo's wintry wonderland was settled in a shootout when Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby fooled Ryan Miller with a nifty deke. But nearly forgotten in the lore: The Kid's ace move wouldn't have been a game-winning one if it weren't for the shootout save a minute earlier by Pens goalie Ty Conklin, whose pokecheck forced Maxim Afinogenov to rush a backhand shot, which Conklin, playing for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, snagged dramatically. The rest is history.
It wasn't until the fourth Classic that we saw a goalie turn in a virtually flawless (except for a Malkin breakaway goal) full-game performance. A rookie getting his shot in the showcase after an injury to starter Michal Neuvirth, Varlamov's 32-save performance under pressure in a 3-1 victory was his breakout NHL moment. Equally impressive, by the way, was Varlamov's custom-painted mask featuring a snowball-splattered graphic.
Ryan Miller topped his helmet with a tuque at the 2008 Winter Classic. (Getty Images)
3. Conklin's Outdoor Achievement (2009)
In a quirky coincidence, career backup Ty Conklin became a starting goalie in the first two Classics (for the Pens, then the Wings) – and won both! The journeyman netminder also solidified his outdoor historical footprint for also having played for Edmonton in 2003's inaugural Heritage Classic.
2. Ryan Miller's Helmet Hat (2008)
Yes, even goalies can make fashion statements. Miller's blue-and-gold hockey-sock-turned-toque didn't earn him a victory, but the hat, cleverly squeezed atop his helmet, added levity, style and a lasting image to what became an instant classic.
1. Timmy Thomas' Fenway Foul (2010)
Tim Thomas' career has been filled with countless puck-stopping highlights. Not among them: his choice to check Scott Hartnell rather than block a point shot in the B's 2010 game against Philadelphia. His Fenway Foul led to the puck dribbling between his legs and into the net, leaving goalie coaches everywhere telling kids not to try that at home, and leaving Boston fans with a Billy Buckner-esque moment only made OK when the Bruins ended up winning 2-1 in OT on a dramatic goal by Marco Sturm.