In Martin Gerber, the Ottawa Senators most certainly trust.
The Swiss stopper has little in the way of a Stanley Cup playoff past. But from head coach/general manager Bryan Murray on down, the Senators are confident Gerber is the right goaltender to take them on a long playoff run this spring.
“Martin Gerber (is) a guy that has really competed well for us,” Murray said in the days leading up to the Senators’ first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Game after game, for the most part, I’ve seen it. There was a stage in January when maybe he wasn’t playing to the level he is right now. But I think he’s a goaltender that gives us a chance to win, and that’s all you can ever ask.”
Two years ago, Gerber was the Carolina Hurricanes’ starter entering the playoffs. But when the favoured ’Canes went down 2-0 in their opening-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, coach Peter Laviolette handed the ball to rookie Cam Ward. Though Gerber did shut out the Buffalo Sabres in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference final, it was Ward who wound up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup-winning Hurricanes.
Still, Senators forward Cory Stillman – a member of that Hurricanes team in 2005-06 – insists Gerber was a huge reason for Carolina’s success and that he’s a guy the Senators can count on during these playoffs.
“He’s a great goalie,” said Stillman. “He put us in the playoffs in Carolina. I know that for a fact. He had 38 wins. It’s a matter of a goalie getting hot, believing in himself and the team believing in him.
“If he can get out there and get that first start and first win, it’s going to be a lift for our team.”
Added Senators defenceman Mike Commodore, also a ’Cane in their Cup season: “I know Gerbs is capable of big things.”
Gerber, who started the final 17 games of the regular season for the Senators, relishes the opportunity to jump into the playoff spotlight again. He watched Ray Emery start every game during the Sens' run to the Stanley Cup final last spring.
“Every time you get a chance to play, you really want to showcase (yourself) and give the team a chance to win,” said Gerber. “That’s what it’s all about.”
And yes, winning is all that matters at this stage of the game.
“There’s less room for error (in the playoffs),” said Gerber, who finished the regular season with a 30-18-4 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. “But you really have to commit to the game plan and really play for the team and put yourself in the second or third row. All that counts is the result and that’s the bottom line.”
Gerber’s playoff experience – eight appearances, only 241 minutes in his career, all with the Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks – is rather minimal. But Stillman doesn’t see the Senators in a deficit position in goal.
“You look at (Gerber’s playoff experience) and you say he’s a goalie that has to prove something,” he said. “But you look around the league, and which team has a superstar goalie? There’s (only) a couple.
“We’re no different than any other team. Montreal has a rookie goalie. (Pittsburgh’s Marc-André) Fleury is trying to prove something, and the list goes on and on. And that’s just in the East.
“Obviously, it’s an important time of the year for him and it’s an important time for our team.”
Said centre Jason Spezza
: "He's had a lot of things said about his playoff past and I think it's a good opportunity for him, just like it is for our team, to prove some people wrong. I think Gerbs will welcome the challenge."