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Biron proving to be ideal backup for Rangers

by Dave Lozo
Henrik Lundqvist wasn't a one-man show in New York during the previous five seasons, but he was the headliner of an off-Broadway production that didn't offer much of a supporting cast.

The 29-year-old took over the No. 1 goaltender job with the Rangers in 2006 and averaged 70 starts during the next five seasons. That didn't leave much playing time for the team's primary backup goaltenders.

* Kevin Weekes made 12 starts in 2006-07
* Steven Valiquette made 10 starts in 2007-08
* Valiquette made 12 starts in 2008-09
* Valiquette made 5 starts, Chad Johnson made 4 in 2009-10

Other backups playing well

Tuukka Rask, BOS: There's no better backup in the League. In 15 games, he's 10-4-1 with a 1.59 GAA and .945 save percentage. He has 3 shutouts in 14 starts.

Cory Schneider, VAN: He caught fire this year with Robert Luongo out with an injury. He has 10 wins in 16 starts with a 2.30 GAA and .927 save percentage.

Josh Harding, MIN: After battling injuries throughout his career, he's healthy and putting up sensational numbers. He's at 2.29/.929 in 17 starts.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, COL: Semyon Varlamov struggled early and Giguere has been there when called upon. His 2.07/.925 are his best numbers in years.

Brian Elliott, STL: Is he still a backup? He opened the season behind Jaroslav Halak, but his outstanding play has worked him into a virtual split of playing time -- an All-Star nod.

-- Dave Lozo
Martin Biron was signed to a two-year contract following the 2009-10 season and made 15 starts in his first season with the Rangers, the most of any backup during the Lundqvist regime. It would've been more, but a broken collarbone suffered by Biron in February forced Lundqvist to start the Rangers' final 26 games of the regular season.

In 2011-12, Biron is finally giving Lundqvist the support that's been missing.

Through 42 games, Biron has made 11 starts. He's 9-2-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. With the Rangers playing a hectic schedule to open the season -- two weeks in Europe and nearly a month on the road between September and October while Madison Square Garden was under renovations -- Biron has been a reliable option for coach John Tortorella.

"The greatest thing about Marty is he's such a great teammate," Tortorella told reporters earlier this season. "He keeps the room loose. He's a veteran guy that understands his role, which is very important. And he's won games. Look at his record since he's been with us. It's too bad he got hurt last year. He would've played more."

Biron has been at his best when the Rangers are in the midst of back-to-back games. As a team, the League-leading Rangers are 10-0-2 in those games this season, while Biron is 4-0-0 with a 1.23 GAA and .949 save percentage in those contests.

With Biron on pace to make about 21 starts, that puts Lundqvist on a pace for about 61. For a goaltender that has historically seen his numbers weaken once the playoffs begin, those 61 starts could be the magical number for a deep playoff run.

The last goaltender to make at least 70 starts in the regular season and win the Stanley Cup was Martin Brodeur, who made 73 starts for the New Jersey Devils in 2003. One look at recent Cup winners shows less in the regular season means more in the postseason:

* Tim Thomas made 55 starts for the Bruins last season
* Antti Niemi made 35 starts for the Blackhawks in 2009-10
* Marc-Andre Fleury made 61 starts for the Penguins in 2008-09, the most of any goalie to win the Cup since Brodeur in 2003
* Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek both made 40 starts for the Red Wings in 2007-08

The backup goaltender has meant more than ever since the 2005-06 season, and the Rangers look like they finally have one on which they can rely.

"If I wasn't surrounded by the people that are surrounding me right now, Henke (Henrik Lundqvist), Benny (Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire), the rest of the guys willing to put in the work before and after practice, it would be a challenge," Biron told reporters of his backup role. "But it works. It's been a situation where I've been able to get the best out of the people around me and they get the best out of me, and we keep on working toward bigger and better goals. I think the people in place to set up the schedule, to put a plan together and stick to that plan, are the ones that have to be recognized for it."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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