Goaltending greenhouse

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

Martin Brodeur must feel as if he should be walking with a cane and collecting social security.

With the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs less than a week away, Brodeur had a feeling that this post-season could feature the most inexperienced crop of starting goaltenders in recent memory.

So, to verify his suspicions, he looked up the numbers. They were overwhelming.

"Did you know that if Dominik Hasek doesn't play for Ottawa, I have more career playoff wins (84) than any goalie in the Eastern Conference has career playoff appearances?" Brodeur said yesterday from New Jersey. "That's crazy."

In active post-season appearances for playoff-bound goalies, Brodeur easily is the elder statesman with 144.

WAR-SCARRED VET

Hasek, next with 97, is a question mark with his lingering groin injury. Chris Osgood is third with 87, but will be on the bench for the Detroit Red Wings in favour of Manny Legace, who has just five playoff games under his belt.

Compared to some teams, Legace is a war-scarred veteran of the post-season wars.

The Nashville Predators, for example, must rely on Chris Mason, an unknown who was forced to step in when incumbent Tomas Vokoun was lost for the season with a blood clot.

Mason is a kid who had never started more than four consecutive games until Vokoun was sidelined. But given the opportunity, he has been between the pipes for the past five games, going 4-1, recording two shutouts, a 1.50 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.

"I feel good, and when you're winning and securing a playoff spot, that gives the whole team confidence," Mason said.

The Buffalo Sabres find themselves in a similar situation. Ryan Miller and Martin Biron have never participated in an NHL post-season game.

"There's a great unknown in dealing with a young goaltender," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I think a lot of teams are faced with that going into the playoffs, not just us."

That could especially hold true in the East.

Like Emery, New York Rangers rookie Henrik Ludqvist has never made a playoff appearance in the NHL. Ditto for Philadelphia Flyers' Antero Niittymaki, Montreal Canadiens' Cristobal Huet and the Atlanta Thrashers duo of Mike Dunham and Kari Lehtonen, whose team remains in the playoff hunt.

Health permitting, all could see action in the post-season.

Compared to those aforementioned guys, Carolina Hurricanes starter Martin Gerber must feel like a grizzled veteran with two post-season appearances.

Brodeur figures experience means little through the early rounds of the playoffs.

"The first round is totally up in the air," he said."Any goalie can get hot in a two- week span.

"But by the third round you can see the difference. By that time, you start to get drained. It's a two-month test of endurance, and it's easy to get burned out.

"That's the big advantage to those of us who have been there before."

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PLAYOFF APPEARANCES

EASTERN CONFERENCE

GAMES

Martin Brodeur NJ* 144

Dominik Hasek OTT 97

Sean Burke TB 35

Robert Esche PHIL* 19

David Aebischer MON 13

Kevin Weekes NYR 8

Martin Gerber CAR* 2

John Grahame TB 2

Ryan Miller BUF* 0

Martin Biron BUF 0

Henrik Lundqvist NYR* 0

Ray Emery OTT* 0

Cristobal Huet MON 0

Antero Niittymaki PHIL 0

Cam Ward CAR 0

Scott Clemmensen NJ 0

Mike Dunham ATL 0

Kari Lehtonen ATL 0

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GAMES

Chris Osgood DET 87

Evgeni Nabokov SJ* 34

Miikka Kiprusoff CAL* 30

Jose Theodore COL* 28

J.S. Giguere ANA* 21

Johan Hedberg DAL 20

Marty Turco DAL* 17

Dwayne Roloson EDM* 15

Manny Legace DET* 5

Jussi Markkanen EDM 1

Chris Mason NAS* 0

Vesa Toskala SJ 0

Philippe Sauve CAL 0

Peter Budaj COL 0

Ilya Bryzgalov ANA 0

Pekka Rinne NAS 0

* -- expected starter

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CUP WINNERS ... an age-old story

Recent history suggests that an upper-echelon goaltender is essential to winning the Stanley Cup. When it comes to surviving the post-season wars between the pipes, experience rules. Note the list of starting goalies to lead their teams to the Cup since 1986, the year Patrick Roy won as a rookie. Most are experienced and are either in the Hall of Fame (Grant Fuhr) or headed there (Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Roy, Ed Belfour). Those five goalies won 11 of the past 19 Cups. Only Chris Osgood ('98) and perhaps, Bill Ranford in ('90) could be considered a surprise.

YEAR GOALIE

2004 Nik. Khabibulin (TB)

2003 Martin Brodeur (NJ)

2002 Dominik Hasek (Det)

2001 Patrick Roy (Col)

2000 Martin Brodeur (NJ)

1999 Ed Belfour (Dal)

1998 Chris Osgood (Det)

1997 Mike Vernon (Det)

1996 Patrick Roy (Col)

1995 Martin Brodeur (NJ)

1994 Mike Richter (NYR)

1993 Patrick Roy (Mtl)

1992 Tom Barrasso (Pitt)

1991 Tom Barrasso (Pitt)

1990 BillRanford (Edm)

1989 Mike Vernon (Cal)

1988 Grant Fuhr (Edm)

1987 Grant Fuhr (Edm)

1986 Patrick Roy (Mtl)


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