Good guy Lalime a star at keeping life in perspective

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:21 AM ET

Allowing two bad goals in a Game 7 at Air Canada Centre, then being plunked down on the end of the bench to watch your team knocked from the playoffs yet again by the Toronto Maple Leafs is not the end of the world.

Neither is having those softies off the stick of Joe Nieuwendyk ultimately lead to your ticket out of a town you never, ever wanted to leave.

"That," Patrick Lalime said yesterday, "is just part of hockey."

Lalime, however, does have a truer understanding of the word tragedy ever since it hit a half mile outside his front door in Clarence Center, N.Y., on Friday, Feb. 13. And he has a clearer sense of what the end of the world actually does look like, at least for the 49 people on Continental Flight 3407 and the one man who was killed when that plane crashed into his house.

It could very well have been the home of Lalime or any one of the many Buffalo Sabres who live in the area.

"My brother-in-law saw the whole thing," said Lalime. "He was picking up luggage (in the driveway) from the back of his car and he saw the plane going down. He ran into the house and started screaming, 'Call 911, call 911'. I was in the basement and I ran upstairs.

"It's like a bad dream."

Lalime's mind has been kept busy pretty much ever since. With the Sabres losing No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller to a high ankle sprain, the 34-year-old native of St. Bonaventure, Que., has been left to shoulder the load.

Last night, his sixth straight start, was his second start in 24 hours. In the five before it, he gave up just eight goals.

It was also his first start in Ottawa as a member of the visiting team since he tended pipes for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-3 draw in the 1996-97 season, a game that extended his NHL record as owner of the longest undefeated streak at the start of a career.

In between were the five seasons (1999-2004) in which he established himself as the best goalie in Senators history, grabbing and still holding the franchise standards for most games played (283), wins (146) and shutouts (30).

But the night of April 20, 2004 put an end to all that.

"I was hoping to," Lalime, who is in his first year with Buffalo after spending two in Chicago and one in St. Louis, said when asked if he had thought he was going to finish his career as a Senator. "Five years here, had a couple of kids here, it's a great place to live. But these days in hockey, a lot of things change."

Earlier in the day, Daniel Alfredsson said he expected Lalime to get a warm welcome from the Scotiabank Place faithful.

"I'm ready for everything," Lalime said with a grin.

When he was introduced, there was a mix of cheers and boos in the building.

Alfredsson greeted his old friend before the game was five minutes old with a shot from the left wing that settled in the back of the net.

"I think he was a very well-respected person in the community and liked as a player as well," said Alfredsson. "He got a bad rap because of one game, but he did a tremendous job for us throughout his time here."

"A couple of series against Philly, he was unbelievable. But that's pro sports. We desperately wanted to beat Toronto, we should have beat Toronto that year. He had a couple of bad goals, but he was a great goalie for us."

He hasn't had the same kind of success since, but Lalime has done well for himself.

And that smile is still always on his face.

"Enjoy life," Lalime said yesterday. "Realize what it's about."

Things I think I think

Filip Kuba is more offensive, yes, but I'm tired of hearing him referred to as the Senators' best defenceman. What's his greatest asset? His playmaking skills? Entering the night, Kuba was tied for 17th in assists among all NHL blueliners. Anton Volchenkov, meanwhile, was tied for eighth in blocked shots and ninth among all defencemen in hits. And he has missed 13 games this season. A-Train, who will be in the final year of his contract next season, is Ottawa's best defenceman. Period ... The games might not mean as much as they usually do at this time of year, but ask the boys on press row and they'll tell you there's still a certain thrill with leaning back in your chair and enjoying the sights, and even the sounds, at Scotiabank Place on many a hockey night. Indeed, as a sports editor other than my own would say, I am lucky to have this job ... Alfredsson looked like Ned Braden in Slap Shot as he tested a new pair of skates, with his jersey and helmet off and his shoulder pads and suspenders down, in front of all those taking advantage of yesterday's free-to-the-public practice. Fortunately, he didn't strip down any further. Meanwhile, the captain is one of the many Senators whose numbers are down. How many pairs of skates have you been through this year, Alfie? "Hasn't been too bad, maybe eight or nine," he said. "Last season it was probably about 20." ... Among those not in attendance last night were Hilary Duff, Carrie Underwood and brand new Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens. The lovely and talented Ms. Duff is expected to be at Scotiabank Place this week (perhaps for tomorrow night's game against Martin Gerber and the Maple Leafs) to cheer on her boy Mike Comrie.

Between periods

Now Chris Neil has the flu, otherwise he would have participated in yesterday's skate. Neil, who has missed 13 games recovering from a lacerated calf, is expected back in the lineup within a week ... Jesse Winchester continues to evolve into a pretty solid fourth-line centre. Particularly liked his fourth-minute hit on veteran defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, whom he sent head-over-heels into the corner of the rink.

Last minute of say

Trying to draw him into light conversation yesterday morning gave you the feeling of what it's like to be a dentist (yanking teeth) but really, who isn't pulling for Cory Clouston to earn himself a contract as the Senators coach next season? The guy is as advertised, a smart and no-nonsense hockey man. Plus, he's the classic underdog. When he arrived, Clouston could have walked through Bayshore on its busiest day without anyone knowing who he is. Now? Only a few more people would recognize him. "I don't do a lot out in public now anyway," said Clouston. "I've spent most of my time in the last month here at the arena. Might go to the grocery store every once in a while, but that's about it. Not a lot of free time." Do people give you advice when they do realize you're the Senators coach? "Always." Any of it good? "Sometimes." Have you had any sleepovers at SBP yet? "A couple of late nights. There's a comfy couch back there."


Videos

Photos