CHICAGO — It can’t be quantified with statistical evidence but this much seems certain: What has prevented this Stanley Cup final from reaching classic status is flat out terrible goaltending.
Some have gone so far as to call this the worst goaltended series in Stanley Cup history.
And while that determination is purely subjective, it has prompted noted television commentator and former goalie Glenn Healy to say, not jokingly: “Last save wins.”
Philadelphia starter, Michael Leighton played terribly in Game1 and Game 5 in Chicago. He didn’t finish either start.
Whether he is called upon for Game 6 is now a matter of speculation that coach Peter Laviolette won’t comment on. He knows who his starting goaltender is for Game 6 on Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center. He just isn’t saying.
Blackhawks starter Antti Niemi has hardly been a tower of strength himself. While he has played one reasonable game in his five starts, the other starts saw him allowing five, four, four and four goals against and all kinds of big rebounds.
“I don’t think we envisioned scoring at the rate we’re scoring at,” Blackhawks coach, Joel Quenneville said. “They had a three-goal lead in Game 4 and we had a three-goal lead in Game 5, and all of a sudden, it’s a one goal game both times.”
Quenneville, forever the diplomat, is attributing the high scoring in this series to quality offence, and there has been a lot of that. He and Laviolette have not publicly questioned their goaltending but it wouldn’t be surprising if Laviolette turns to Brian Boucher for Game 6.
Through five games thus far, 40 goals have been scored, but this is not the highest scoring final in history. It is the highest scoring final since 1981 and that will be surpassed in Game 6. Oddly enough, the record-setter for goals scored came in 1973, a six-game series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Blackhawks, surprisingly with hall of famers Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito in goal.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Scotty Bowman told Chris Stevenson of QMI Agency. “We got beat 8-7 (in Game 5) and the amazing part was, they were two of the best goalies of the 1970s. It was like last shot wins, that’s for sure.
“We lost 8-7 then won the Cup 6-4 and I don’t think there was an empty net goal. There were 25 goals in two games. I don’t know the reason ... Everybody just kept scoring.”
In the 1973 final, 56 goals — or 9.3 per game — were scored. For this series to surpass that number, it would take two more games and 16 more goals. This much we know: That doesn’t look much like Dryden in the Philadelphia net and no one is mistaking Niemi for Tony O.