In the last three postseasons, the Anaheim Ducks
have always come back to Jean-Sebastien Giguere
to provide the answer in goal.
It's not as if he's been the man for every minute of those Stanley Cup Playoff games. Whether through injuries, shaky play or circumstances away from the ice that could impact any human being much less a goaltender, Giguere has had to work his way back through those setbacks.
Nevertheless, Giguere is usually the one the Ducks wind up counting on. But the times may be a-changin'.
As the Ducks approach Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against San Jose (Thursday, 10:30 p.m., CBC, RDS, VERSUS), it is Jonas Hiller who will likely get the nod Thursday night in front a frenzied crowd at HP Pavilion. Hiller has clearly been the better goaltender through the regular season and Giguere accepts that fact.
"I don't anticipate playing," Giguere said. "I won't lie to you. Jonas is a great young goalie and I know he's going to do the job. On my end, I've just got to get ready, prepare and do the things that are needed."
At the moment, the focus figures to be on the Swiss-born Hiller. When Giguere couldn't shake himself out of his season-long struggles, the Ducks turned to their 27-year-old backup for their playoff push.
In turn, Hiller responded. Not only did he post strong numbers overall -- 23-15-1, 2.39 goals-against average, .919 save percentage -- but he played a big role in Anaheim's 10-2-0 surge at the end that got it the No. 8 seed and a date against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks.
Since March 6, Hiller started 13 of the Ducks' final 16 games and went 9-3-0, which included a seven-game winning streak that tied Guy Hebert's franchise record. It's not as if he has played under pressure before, having backstopped HC Davos to the Swiss National League A title.
Hiller said he plans to lean on that experience if he takes the ice in arguably the NHL's loudest arena, aka the "Shark Tank."
"The playoffs are always something special," he said. "It'll be my first playoff atmosphere [in net]. I'm not too worried about. I've played a couple of playoff rounds back home and I know how it works in the Swiss League.
"I've gone on to the next round and been in a couple of Game 7s, so I'm not too worried about the whole thing. But, for sure, it's going to a new experience and something that I'm going to be looking forward to."
It's not an absolute certainty that Hiller will start, given Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle's proclivity to not name his starting goaltender prior to any game. Carlyle didn't indicate the starting goalie for the first NHL preseason game he coached so don't expect him to start now.
Even though Hiller has been solid all season and has logged the bulk of the duty of late, the goalie's last two starts could mean that Carlyle will give him a short leash if he doesn't respond to the pressure.
In the Ducks' playoff-clinching shootout home win over Dallas, Hiller gave up a 35-foot game-tying goal to Steve Ott with 13.1 seconds left to force overtime. In their season finale at Phoenix, Hiller allowed four goals on 24 shots and was pulled after two periods.
"He'll react fine," Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer said. "It's the same game. Especially for any goaltender. He's a player whose mental game is one of his strengths. I don't think it'll be a problem."
Hiller said he understands he'll be under a lot of scrutiny in his first Stanley Cup Playoff series. He was the backup to Giguere last season, but didn't appear in their six-game loss to Dallas in the opening round.
"Every game a lot of people are watching me. Every game, people are wondering if I deserve to be here and I deserve to play. For sure, it's going to be a little more special, the playoffs. I know that."
-- Jonas Hiller
"Every game a lot of people are watching me," Hiller said. "Every game, people are wondering if I deserve to be here and I deserve to play. For sure, it's going to be a little more special, the playoffs. I know that.
"I'm happy I got all this experience back home at a certain age. I know how things go. I was here in the playoffs last year. Even though I didn't play, I saw the whole experience. I don't think it's has to change a lot. Compare to the last few games [for us], it's almost the same procedure. All the time, [it was like] having a Game 7. You have to win."
Much as he'd prefer to be the go-to guy, Giguere has been on the sidelines in the past. In 2006, the 31-year-old veteran struggled in the first round against Calgary and was replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov would go on to shut out the Flames in Game 7, starting a three-game shutout streak that tied an NHL record for a rookie goalie. It wasn't until Bryzgalov cooled off in the West final against Edmonton that Giguere returned to the net.
In 2007, Giguere went through the emotional ordeal of his son, Maxime, born with an eye deformity just days before. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner, who led the then-Mighty Ducks to the 2003 Final, made his first start in Game 5 of the first round against Minnesota and didn't give up the net in Anaheim's run to its first championship.
"You always have to keep yourself ready and make sure to do what's necessary for you to be ready in case you go in," Giguere said. "Selfishly, I want to play, but I don't want that because it means things are not going well.
"I fully anticipate Jonas to play well. He's done good since Day 1 when he came here. Everything that's happening to him, he deserves it."
For now, Giguere is going to focus on being a good teammate and work until he's called on.
"Obviously, this is not the scenario that I like," he said. "It's not in my hands right now. You've got to respect the way things are going. Accept your position. Once the playoffs come, you've got to be a team guy. It's about the team now, not about the individual."
If Hiller does struggle, the Ducks know they have a battle-tested playoff goalie to turn to.
"We've went through these situations before," Carlyle said. "We've always had to tap on both goaltenders. That's probably no different than any other team. At some point, one or the other is going to play.
"I think it's been a huge luxury for our hockey club and our organization to have two quality netminders. We feel very, very fortunate to have that."