-- The signs of spring have returned in the Philadelphia region -- the flowers are blooming and the grass is growing -- but there is one rite of the season unique to the area that seems to be missing this spring.
No one's complaining about the Flyers' goaltender.
Through three games, the goaltending question is far off the radar thanks to Martin Biron
's solid play. While his numbers aren't spectacular -- one win, 3.05 goals-against average, .905 save percentage -- he's made the big saves when he's had to, and he's certainly had to make plenty. Biron has faced a League postseason-high 111 shots, and leads the NHL with 101 saves.
Since 1987, when rookie goalie Ron Hextall
carried the Flyers to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers
and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort, the Flyers have searched for another goalie to lead them. But season after season, whether it's Dominic Roussel
, Garth Snow
, John Vanbiesbrouck
, Brian Boucher
, Roman Cechmanek
or Robert Esche
, they've never found the right fit.
But after last season's remarkable run to the conference finals and his solid play so far this postseason, could the Flyers finally have found a solution?
"I thought Marty looked like he's more aggressive," Flyers coach John Stevens
said. "He's confident and challenging, pucks are sticking to him. That's the first sign to me -- when he's aggressive and pucks are sticking, to him he's getting his level of confidence back. I think he's starting to ramp up his game much like he did last year, where he's getting more and more confident all the time and that allows him to be aggressive. And when he's aggressive, pucks stick to him."
He was like a Venus flytrap last year as the Flyers made their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Biron had never been a starting goalie on a Stanley Cup Playoff team prior to the 2008 postseason, but he played like a seasoned veteran. His Game 2 shutout keyed the first-round win against the Washington Capitals
, and then he smothered the high-scoring Montreal Canadiens
in five games. While the Flyers lost to the Penguins in five games in the conference finals, that had more to do with Philadelphia missing its top two defensemen for the majority of that series than it did with the play of the goaltender.
Biron was far from a Vezina nominee during the 2007-08 season, but he took hold of the position in Flyers' late run-up to the playoffs and consistently was strong through the postseason. When the 2008-09 season started, though, the up-and-down Biron returned, and backup Antero Niittymaki
seemed to pass him for the top job. Biron, though, never worried about his spot on the team.
"I don't listen to TV or radio, I don't read the paper," Biron told NHL.com. "Everybody I talk to that are big hockey fans are supportive. The only talk I hear that's negative is the questions I get every day coming down the stretch. I really don't put too much emphasis in it."
Instead, he's concerned himself with stopping pucks, which he's done quite well. Other than a pair of fluky goals in Game 1, Biron hasn't allowed any easy scores. He made a number of strong saves late in Game 2, and held strong after the Flyers went up in the second period in Game 3.
"I was never worried about him," Danny Briere
said. "The same thing happened last year -- everyone was on his case, saying he didn't have much experience, and he showed up in the playoffs and played extremely well for us. I've always been saying that Marty is one of those guys that doesn't get rattled by a bad goal or a bad game. He's good at keeping him composure and staying focused. That's always been one of his strengths, I find. For me it wasn't a worry."
said the team has a level of confidence playing in front of Biron. The Flyers know they need to play better in front of him, but even if they don't play their absolute best game, they know there's someone behind them capable of stealing games.
"He was a huge part of our success last year," Knuble said. "Last time he had to steal games for us to win. I remember last year he had a couple big games in Montreal that turned the series and made it lopsided in our favor. They were big games that he had, big saves he made.
"He's been solid (and) we're trying to play better in front of him. We play better in front of him and you get the great goaltending, then you win a lot of games. We don't ask him to try to steal games. Hopefully he does, but that's not the hope that everybody sitting in the room has, their fingers crossed that Marty can steal the game. We're trying to play better in front of him and then he'll make the saves, and hopefully that equals wins."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.