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Oilers goalie Cam Talbot having 'best year' of his life – on and off the ice

Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot stops a shot against the San Jose Sharks during Game 3 on Sunday.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press

On Oct. 18, Cam Talbot made 31 saves to help the Edmonton Oilers beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2. Around 6 the next morning, he and his wife, Kelly, were en route to the hospital for the birth of their twins. The cesarean section was planned months earlier, on an off day for the team.

The next night at Rogers Place, Talbot wore his babies' yellow hospital bands around his right wrist and made 34 saves as the Oilers beat the Blues 3-1.

That's the kind of year it has been for Edmonton's goalie. He is the hardest-working in the NHL. He started a league-high 73 games, and tied for first with 42 wins, a franchise record.

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Not even the birth of his first son and daughter could distract him.

"I have been very impressed with the way he has taken care of his family and his whole body all season," said Oscar Klefbom, the Oilers' defenceman. "He is a real professional."

In three playoff games against the San Jose Sharks, Talbot has stopped all but three of 83 shots. He enters Tuesday night's game at the SAP Center with back-to-back shutouts against last season's Stanley Cup finalists. The Oilers have a 2-1 lead, with the best-of-seven quarter-final series returning to Edmonton on Thursday night.

"I try to just go about my business and not think about how big all of this is," Talbot said Monday after the Oilers skated for a half-hour to stretch their legs. "I feel pretty good. This group is a confident group right now. I am just one part of the puzzle."

At 29, Talbot has become one of the sport's elite goaltenders. With a .918 save percentage over more than 100 games, he is easily the most proficient in Oilers history, a rich one that includes Hall-of-Famer Grant Fuhr. Nobody who has worn an Edmonton jersey for any length of time comes close. He has nine shutouts this year, including these past two in the postseason.

"Cam always looks calm in there," said Jordan Eberle, the Oilers right wing. "When things go wrong, he isn't scrambling. He makes a save, and calms down the bench."

The Talbot twins – Landon Thomas and Sloane Colleen – will be six months old on Wednesday. Personalities are beginning to emerge. Initially, Landon was the screamer. Now, the roles are reversed. When one has a toy, the other tries to get it.

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"It's tiring," Talbot said. "In the middle of the night one cries, and the other wakes up. It seems never ending.

"On game days, my wife takes them in the other room to feed them so that I can rest. She is the real MVP this year."

Cam and Kelly met when they were attending the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Her brother was one of his best friends on the team. They hit it off, but Cam tread cautiously at first.

"Eventually, I got her brother's blessing," he said. "The rest is history."

Growing up in Caledonia, Ont., Talbot was a decent hockey player but never a great one. When it came time for college, little interest was shown in him. His family was not well off. He needed a scholarship to help pay for university. He received an offer from Alabama-Huntsville, one of only two southern schools in the United States playing NCAA Division 1 hockey.

He won three games in his first two seasons. In his last year, he won 12 and ranked fifth in the NCAA in save percentage.

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It was enough to attract the attention of the New York Rangers, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in April, 2010. After three seasons in the minor leagues, he became Henrik Lundqvist's backup. When the Swedish star was injured in 2014-15, Talbot took over for 21 games and helped the Rangers make the playoffs.

The day after the Oilers selected Connor McDavid in the 2015 NHL draft, they acquired Talbot for that year's 62nd, 79th and 184th picks. Perhaps Robin Kovacs, Sergey Zborovskiy and Adam Huska will become great players; if not, for Edmonton, it was a steal.

"When I with the Rangers, I dreamed of getting a chance to be a starting goalie in the NHL," Talbot said Sunday night after stopping 23 shots in the Oilers' 1-0 win over the Sharks. "For me to be the guy for a team that is in the Stanley Cup [playoffs] is very humbling."

After McDavid, Talbot has become the Oilers' most popular player. Fans line up at Rogers Place to take pictures with a giant Cam bobblehead. He has won their hearts with his play, his twins and with his kindness.

Several times this year, he donated his $1,000 player-of-the-month prize to the Second Chance Animal Rescue Society. He and Kelly own a rescue dog, a mixed breed named Winnie.

He is on a heck of a run. Last summer, he was the starting goalie when Team Canada won a gold medal at the IIHF world championship. In October came the twins. Then he put together a season worthy of consideration for a Vézina Trophy. Now, the Oilers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, even if the twins are keeping him up at night.

"It must be a track meet around the house," said Todd McLellan, the Oilers' coach.

Talbot would not trade it for anything.

"Personally and professionally, it has been the best year of my life," he said.

"I am taking things day by day."

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