Back when Glenn Hall was in the prime of his hockey career, it was an unwritten show of respect for the two starting goalies to acknowledge each other before a big game. Sometimes it was just a quick nod in the opposing goalie's direction, but often the two would exchange words during the warm-up.
"You'd wish him good luck and say 'Have a good one,' " said Mr. Hall, the man otherwise known in the NHL pantheon as Mr. Goalie, who 50 years ago backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup win over Detroit. "We always talked."
Don't expect Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas to be saying much to each other before Wednesday's Game 7 in Vancouver. The two haven't exactly been on speaking terms during the finals, unless you count the subtle jabs launched in postgame interviews. It is something that's been noticed by the goalie fraternity watching the series from afar. "This series has a bit of a bite, a bit of meanness," said Grant Fuhr, who was part of the Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup dynasty in the 1980s. "It's definitely got an edge to it."
A lot of that edge can be ascribed to the Vancouver and Boston goalies. There has been much debate over what Mr. Luongo actually meant when he suggested the Canucks' winning goal in Game 5 that snuck past a sprawling Mr. Thomas would have been an "easy save" for him. And perhaps it was just coincidence when Mr. Thomas, later asked about Mr. Luongo getting pulled amid a disastrous first period in Game 6, declined to comment because, quite frankly, he had never been in that type of situation.
This subtle war of words - whether intentional or not - is a rarity. Like pitchers in baseball, goalies tend to be insular, not wanting to provide any ammunition to the opposing side. Bill Ranford, winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during the Edmonton Oilers' Stanley Cup run in 1990 remembers making a conscious effort to not blurt out anything hostile that might draw out the other team.
Mr. Ranford, now a goalie coach for the Los Angeles Kings, learned that lesson from an Oiler squad deep with experience. "Those are the types of things they talked about, not giving anybody something to pin up on the board, or write on the board, to give them an edge," he said.
However, Mr. Luongo is a goalie who thrives on bravado. When sure of himself, he wins. But when things go wrong, the crumbles have been dramatic. That's the best explanation some goalies can come up with for Mr. Luongo's erratic performance in this final series: two shutouts and three decisive wins at home in Vancouver, and three ugly losses on the road punctuated by a parade of Boston goals.
"Roberto is a confident guy, you look at all the things he's done … and yet he has these fluctuations like in Boston where it goes south on him and the next one goes in," said former NHL goalie and TV analyst John Garrett. "And I think what's worrisome to the Canuck faithful: What happens if some high glove-side shot beats him, and the next one beats him."
The question is which version of the Vancouver goalie will show up in Game 7. While Mr. Luongo's final series has been marked by extreme highs and lows, Mr. Thomas appears to be seeking out an even-keel mentally. He shrugged off the tough losses early in the series and played down his best performances of late.
The Boston goalie reminds Mr. Fuhr of himself. "Thomas looks pretty relaxed," Mr. Fuhr said. "The easiest way to play the game is to be relaxed and enjoy the moment of it. You can be ultracompetitive and still be relaxed."
Heading into Game 7, confidence management is now paramount. To prepare for a big game, Mr. Ranford and Mr. Garret both stuck to a regular routine. When things got particularly intense, Mr. Fuhr sought solitude away from the rink. On off days, he would often spend time on his own to relax. When Mr. Luongo attributed his rebound performance in Game 5 to a lone walk on Vancouver's seawall, it was a similar approach.
"Once it comes to the finals, you've been thinking about hockey for eight months of the year and the last month has been a complete grind," Mr. Fuhr said. "So you have to get away from it a bit and give your head a rest so you're fresh."
After that, there's little else that matters. As Mr. Hall, now 79, points out: "It's not a matter of who wins the staring match, it's who wins the game."