Kudos to 'Canes coach

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

BUFFALO -- On any National Hockey League team, 90% of the players see the game differently than the other 10%.

For 90%, the idea is to score goals. For the remaining 10% -- the two goaltenders -- the idea is to keep them out.

So when you get right down to it, you have two kinds of people in the hockey world -- goaltenders and everybody else.

As a result, head coaches tend not to understand goaltenders. You would have to dig deep into the reference books to find a great coach who was a goaltender. Mostly, great coaches tend to be forwards, with the odd defenceman thrown in.

Goaltenders go on to become electronic-media analysts, not top-line coaches.

As a result, NHL goalies tend to feel that their coach doesn't understand them. And they usually are right.

So the moves that Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette has made with his goaltenders in this post-season deserve further examination.

Because a goalie change -- especially in mid-game -- is the most dramatic move a coach can make, it's not done casually. It exposes the coach to media scrutiny, which is another way of saying that if he's wrong, he'll get toasted for eternity, but if he's right, the move gets shrugged off.

But if the Hurricanes should go on to win the Stanley Cup, history will record that Laviolette's moves with his goaltenders played a crucial role.

All season long, Martin Gerber was the man behind the mask for the Hurricanes. He was spectacular in the Olympics, then slipped slightly afterwards, but in all the pre-playoff analyses, his stellar performances were cited as one of the reasons that the Hurricanes should do well.

But in his first 75 minutes against the Montreal Canadiens, he allowed nine goals. Laviolette gonged him and rookie Cam Ward came in.

Ward didn't win that game. He lost in overtime. But he was absolutely brilliant and it was because of his work that the Canadiens didn't cruise to a regulation-time win.

Ward went on to win that round. And the next one.

In this round against the Buffalo Sabres, Ward continued to play well, but after Game 3, with the Hurricanes down a game and on the road, Laviolette brought back Gerber.

Had Gerber been shelled by the Sabres, Laviolette would have suffered a similar fate from the media.

NO SUCH QUESTIONS

The questions, paraphrased slightly, would have been something like: "Why were you stupid enough to yank a goalie who won nine playoff games this year and replace him with a guy who never has won a playoff game in his history?"

Laviolette had to face no such questions. Gerber produced a shutout.

Suddenly, Ward's involvement, significant though it was, appeared to be a thing of the past. Gerber, the starter all year, would be the starter the rest of the way.

Sure enough, when the pivotal Game 5 started, there was Gerber between the pipes. Twenty-two minutes later, he was gone, replaced by Ward with the Hurricanes trailing 3-1.

Two of the goals were scored on breakaways, the other on a blazing shot perfectly placed into the upper corner.

Still, Laviolette made his dramatic move. And again, it proved to be a stroke of genius.

Ward made some brilliant saves, stopped crafty Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway, and slammed the door firmly shut. His teammates got a pair of goals in regulation time, another in overtime, and now are in control of the series.

At the other end, Ryan Miller, who did not look as sharp as Gerber on Sunday, plays every minute. Carolina's first goal, from Justin Williams, was mediocre. The third goal, from Rod Brind'Amour, was almost identical to Derek Roy's goal against Gerber -- but from a worse angle and further out.

Should Lindy Ruff now send in Martin Biron? Who knows? But the point is this. Peter Laviolette has made some very courageous decisions in regard to his goaltenders.

Coaches always get roasted when they screw up. Sometimes, they deserve credit for brilliant moves.


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