Last year, Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock designated Halak as his playoff starter after he and Elliott basically split the job in the regular season. Halak was injured – again – Elliott took over and got them past the San Jose Sharks in the opening round. But it was a mess in the second round against the eventual Stanley Cup champion, Los Angeles Kings, where the Blues were swept in four and strayed dramatically from their defence-first posture. Against a Kings team that finished second last in regular-season scoring, the Blues gave up three, five, four and three goals and were never really in the series.
St. Louis added at the trade deadline defencemen Jay Bouwmeester (averaging 23.31 minutes of ice time for them already) plus Jordan Leopold (16:56) to supplement an already deep defence corps that included Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Barrett Jackman. As they’re getting their injured bodies back up front (Alex Steen, T. J. Oshie, Andy McDonald and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko have all missed significant time this season), St. Louis looks like a convincing playoff dark horse – assuming, of course, the goaltending holds up.
MORE GOALIE CHATTER: How many goalies of the future can one team have? The Calgary Flames believe they have two – Kari Rammo, a Finn who played the past four seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and Reto Berra, a Swiss who spent the past season in Biel.
The plan is for the Flames to sign both in the next little while and have Ramo in the NHL next year, either sharing the job with Miikka Kiprusoff (in the unlikely event Kiprusoff decides to play out the final year of his contract for $1.5-million) or possibly with Joey McDonald, a waiver draft acquisition who is a pending unrestricted free agent, but has been a solid backup for them this year. In fact, McDonald’s five wins are more than any Flames backup since Jamie McLennan in 2003-04 … As of this morning, the top four teams in the Western Conference – Chicago, the Anaheim Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks and the Kings – have all featured goalie platoons in the shortened season. Some were planned – Anaheim went out and signed Viktor Fasth out of the Swedish Elite League because they, like Calgary, have had no success whatsoever with a series of backups, but a few teams just fell into a rotation. L.A., for example, started using Jonathan Bernier more because Jonathan Quick, last year’s playoff MVP, had off-season back surgery and wasn’t quite the same goalie this year as last. In Chicago, Ray Emery, the former Ottawa starter, has had an unbelievable run – 15-1-0 compared to the nominal starter, Corey Crawford, at 15-4-4, and raises the question, which one will get the call in the Blackhawks’ goal on the opening night of the playoffs? Emery has had 17 starts this season, Crawford 22.
And Vancouver, well, you know Vancouver. Unable (or unwilling) to trade Roberto Luongo, he has given them a lot of good games this year, including one this past week, when the red-hot Cory Schneider couldn’t go because of the flu. So Luongo went in and stopped 40 out of 41 shots from the Flames, and won his eighth game of the year. The Canucks had to sign the University of Calgary’s Dustin Butler to a one-day contract as Luongo’s backup for that game because they couldn’t get anyone into town in time. That’s about the third time it’s happened already this season – a team madly scrambling to find someone to put into their NHL lineup from among available local goalies. The NHL should, as a matter of course, have some sort of unofficial aid to expedite the process – maybe list a trio of possible goalies in every market when these sorts of contingencies come up. It isn’t that difficult in Calgary or Minnesota, but woe the team that gets a goalie sick in Carolina or Tampa – there just aren’t a lot of former collegians or juniors hanging around.