Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy might be setting a trend by going to an empty net early enough in games to turn what once was a regular coaching decision into a bigger storyline in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Roy also might be showing NHL coaches what can go wrong when taking a gamble as big as pulling the goaltender in favor of the extra attacker with between two-and-a-half and three minutes remaining.
The verdict is out while the coaching community weighs the pros and cons of Roy's strategy of using the extra attacker earlier than conventional wisdom suggests.
"Since he gave up two in the empty net [Monday], I'm not so sure it's all that wonderful an idea," longtime NHL coach Craig Ramsay told NHL.com. "I think there is nothing wrong with it. I'm certainly not against it. But for me, that's a little early. That's a hope or two."
Ramsay is talking about Game 6 of Colorado’s Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild. After Wild forward Zach Parise scored to put Minnesota ahead with 6:29 left in the third period, Roy pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov with 2:44 to play in a 3-2 game. The Wild scored two empty-net goals to make it a 5-2 final.
Roy's strategy had worked twice in the series, in Games 1 and 5.
He pulled Varlamov with 3:01 to play in Game 1, and Paul Stastny scored the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left. Stastny later scored the overtime winner.
Roy pulled Varlamov with 2:22 to play in Game 5, and PA Parenteau scored the game-tying goal 68 seconds later. Nathan MacKinnon scored in overtime to give the Avalanche a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Roy also tried it in Game 4 when the Wild were leading 2-1 with 2:34 left in Game 4, but the Avalanche couldn't tie the game.
Game 7 is Wednesday at Pepsi Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, RDS, TSN2, FS-N, ALT).
"Some guys are a little more patient than other guys are, but Patrick [pulls the goalie] the earliest I've seen in the games," Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Some guys are a minute, some guys are a minute-and-a-half, but Patrick's at least two, which has worked for him. So, it's proof that you can do it and it works."
Roy did it several times during the regular season, including for the final 4:46 of a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 21, but it's drawing more attention in the playoffs. Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau credited Roy for showing him it can work.
Boudreau pulled Jonas Hiller from Game 6 against the Dallas Stars with 2:26 left in regulation, but the Ducks were down by two goals at the time. Boudreau said he normally would have pulled Hiller with two minutes or less to play had he not been paying attention to what Roy is doing in with the Avalanche.
It worked; Anaheim tied the game with two extra-attacker goals.
"I think before this year the number that was closely associated was 90 seconds [to pull the goalie], but quite frankly, and give him all the credit in the world, which I do, watching Colorado play and pulling the goalie with three or four minutes to go, it's a total different entity," Boudreau said. "We started looking at the three-minute mark, but we didn't get a good chance until about two-and-a-half minutes to go pull him. With a two-goal deficit, it would have been around a two-minute mark for me, but watching what's going on around the League, and obviously Patrick started it in Colorado, it seems to be making a lot of sense. We tried it and it worked. I wouldn't have normally pulled him or thought of it that early."
There are some keys to making it a more effective gamble, such as pulling the goalie at a stoppage in play, especially if it's coming off an icing call and you can get an offensive-zone faceoff and a 6-on-5 against tired defenders, Ramsay said.
Roy did it after an icing in Game 1, but it worked again in Game 5 when he pulled Varlamov on the fly, after the Avalanche finished killing a penalty. Roy also did it on the fly in Games 4 and 6, when it didn't work.
Boudreau pulled Hiller after a stoppage in play in Game 6 of the Ducks-Stars series.
"You do get burned sometimes when it's at 1:50 and you think, 'Ah, I'm not going to do it,' but then you have to get him out on the run, which is always more difficult," Ramsay said. "The players aren't sure. The guys on the ice sometimes just don't realize that the goalie has come out, and they make a funny play, and it bounces against you. These things certainly happen. It's a fine line you walk as a coach."
Boudreau said if you're going to pull the goalie early, you must have two scoring lines that you can trust to keep the puck in the zone. But Roy left the same six skaters out for the entire 3:01 in Game 1, helped by several stoppages in play.
"You have to have another line ready to go right away because the one line can't stay out there for two-and-a-half minutes," Boudreau said.
If the team can keep the puck in the zone and even make a line change, pulling the goalie early, with two or more minutes remaining, could give your best offensive forwards two cracks at scoring on a 6-on-5.
"With 2:40 to go you can put out your best guys, they take a shot at it. If it doesn't work you make sure that they know that they're out there for 30 seconds so you can change and have them coming back with a minute or something to go when you might normally take the goalie out," Ramsay said. "You get two cracks at it, but it's a gamble. Any time you take the goalie out, it's a gamble."
It's a gamble Roy feels is worth taking earlier than most coaches have even considered. It's too soon to tell if his gamble is going to catch on and become the norm, but the coaching community is definitely abuzz because of it.
"Obviously, when people see something good, they're going to copy it," Boudreau said.