The spring festival for senior goaltenders has thus far ignored Sean Burke.
With a relatively young Robert Esche anchored in net for the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that has waited years for consistent playoff goaltending, the 37-year-old Burke is being the good soldier. But elsewhere Ed Belfour (39) and Curtis Joseph (37), are carrying the torch for the class of the late 1980s on their respective clubs.
Burke, who has played in only five playoff series since his remarkable rookie run with the New Jersey Devils in 1988, could get his name on a Stanley Cup this year without making a start. But he would prefer a contribution.
"I knew when I came here (Feb. 9 from Phoenix) that they'd give Robert the opportunity and I would be the guy who had to wait," Burke said yesterday at the Flyers' practice in Voorhees, N.J. "The team is winning and Eschey is doing a great job. I want the opportunity, but I don't sit and over-evaluate everything. There's nothing I can do except be ready."
Burke was acquired when Esche was out with a knee injury. He had an overall record of 6-5-2 in his second stint with the Flyers, recording his 300th National Hockey League win in the process. His most recent start was a 2-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on April 1, but Esche is 5-1 in the post-season heading into Game 2 against the Maple Leafs tonight.
"I have a great relationship with Robert," Burke said. "Right now, we're winning, he has worked hard and you've got to respect that."
Burke does not consider himself under a playoff hex. But years on bad teams, such as Hartford, Florida and Phoenix didn't offer much of a chance to showcase himself. His only three series were all five-game defeats, yet the former Toronto Marlboro is considered one of the league's best technical goalies, compensating for age with more intelligent body positioning, just as Belfour has.
"There are 30 teams and only 16 make the playoffs, so a lot of guys go a long time and don't play," Burke said.
The Flyers represent his best Cup ticket in years.
"If I had a chance to win, this would be the team," he said. "But, for me, I want to play in this league another number of years. I think Eddie's done a tremendous job and he's done it a long time. It's hard work, taking care of yourself and wanting to compete every day.
"I still feel I have all those things in my game. In order to be confident you have to play and I know that if given the opportunity, I'm ready to do the job."