The final frontier

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

There's one last thing for Mathieu Garon to prove.

And he's in the process of proving it right now.

He's already shown he can steal you a game. He's already shown he can outduel the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff and Roberto Luongo. He's already shown he can dominate the shootout like no other netminder in the league.

But can he carry the mail for 70 games a season? Can he go 15 starts in a row, like Kiprusoff (who's played 61 of Calgary's 64 games this year), Marty Brodeur (59 of 64)and Evgeni Nabokov (60 of 62)?

If Dwayne Roloson is here next season, Garon won't have to, but if the Edmonton Oilers decide to move Roloson in the summer and bring in one of their prospects, the kid won't play more than a dozen games, tops.

Eighty-two minus 12 is roughly 70, and that's a full plate for someone who's averaged 38 over his last three NHL seasons.

"I don't know that he needs to prove it any further," said MacTavish, who's given Garon 10 starts in a row, and 12 of the last 13.

"He's played a lot of hockey here the last little while. He's been the picture of consistency, really. When you go over the ratings from every game he's played, it's quite incredible the high level of peformance and consistency he's given us."

Being able to perform at a high level over a long haul is every backup goalie's final frontier. There are dozens who can stand on their heads for a few nights, but run out of gas at the 7- 8- 9- in-a-row range. Others are fine until they're thrust into a starting role, and the responsibility of a season is put on their shoulders - then their psychological five-hole gets a mile wide.

"That is a question that was asked of him when he came here," said MacTavish. "Whether he could be a No. 1. He's a great guy and a good goalie, but whether he had the mental and physical makeup to be a No. 1.

"He is answering that question."

If Garon plays tonight against the L.A. Kings, who didn't think he had what it took to be a starter, it'll be his 11th game in a row, which, to the best of his recollection, is his longest stretch in the NHL.

"Two years ago in L.A. I played eight or 10 in a row," said Garon. "But I remember in the minors going for 27 (straight). And those were like four (games) in five (nights) or three in three (which isn't even allowed in the NHL)."

His career high is 63 games, two years ago in Los Angeles, where he went 31-26-3 with a 3.22 GAA on a team that missed the playoffs.

In his mind, he can be a team's pack mule, but he dares not think past the next start.

"I just want to take it one game at a time," he said in a way that it actually didn't sound like a cliche. "If I don't play good the next game, then I won't be playing the one after that, anyway."

Garon has waited long enough for this that he knows not to take it for granted. He believes he can do it, but also understands that he doesn't have the reputation Brodeur or Kiprusoff have, that two or three stinkers in a night have people wondering if he's hit that invisible backup wall.

"I think you have to prove it day after day," he said. "If I get a couple of bad games, you have to start it all again. Hockey players have to prove themselves every day. I know for sure I can be a No. 1 and I can play lots of games, but I want to do it for a full year.

"And I'm not going to be satisfied with one year, I'll push for two years ... that's how it is."

Too bad for Garon that after all he has proven this year, he has to take a pay cut next year. He goes from $1.2 million to $1 million.

Oh well, being the best bargain in the NHL still feels pretty good.

"In my best dream I was hoping a scenario like this would happen," he said. "Now it seems like it has happened, I'm getting a chance to play a lot. I'm just enjoying the moment."


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