Colorado avalanche defenseman Raymond Bourque, into his fourth decade of chasing the Stanley Cup, would return to his stall after practices last week and tug on a black cap with MISSION 16W lettered on the front. The 16W represents the 16 wins needed to secure the Cup, but 16W is also the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike where the defending champion Devils play. Bourque's Stanley Cap works on two levels, three if you count keeping his venerable head warm.
In a world of statement games, statement plays and statement hats, the most important player remaining in the 2001 playoffs is a goalie who suddenly isn't saying much. With Colorado's star center Peter Forsberg sidelined until next season following emergency surgery to remove a ruptured spleen two days before the start of the Western Conference finals, with the Avalanche's forwards seemingly having no more idea how to play with a lead than a frog knows how to play Monopoly, with the fresh and formidable St. Louis Blues storming his crease, Patrick Roy put one hand on the Cup and squeezed, stopping 170 of 181 shots in the series. On Monday night Colorado held up its end in forming an Avalanche-Devils Stanley Cup finals matchup by eliminating St. Louis 2-1 in overtime in Game 5, a match in which the Blues started rookie goalie Brent Johnson in place of the bumbling Roman Turek. Roy again was outstanding, finishing the job of transforming a vulnerable team into a nearly impregnable one.
To call what Roy was doing mere hot goaltending would stress the element of luck over Roy's poise and skill. This masterly work by a confident goalie was so impressive that even the other Avalanche players seemed to be standing around watching him half the time. "This is the same guy people were all over three or four weeks ago," Colorado winger Shjon Podein said of Roy, who looked unsteady during a first-round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks. "Now he's playing some of the best hockey in his career, which is scary considering he might already have proved himself the best goalie in history. Anytime you challenge Patrick's talent and desire, he seems to raise the bar."
Roy's performance against the Blues was near vintage St. Patrick; he was canonized in Game 3 when a slap shot to the gut by St. Louis defenseman Al MacInnis seemed as if it could have resulted in the Avalanche's second splenectomy of the playoffs. The only element that was missing from the 35-year-old Roy's game was his usual smart-alecky charm. The wisenheimer who in 1996 said he couldn't hear Chicago Blackhawks center Jeremy Roenick's criticism because Roy's two Stanley Cup rings were blocking his ears now lets his eyes glaze over during the daily question-and-answer sessions, declining to be engaged. He has taken the assertiveness he displays on the ice—the superstitious Roy won't step on lines on the ice, and after the first overtime in Game 3 he bowled over Blues forward Jamal Mayers, who was blocking his path off the ice—and strained it into postgame pabulum.
Still, sometimes Roy, who holds the NHL record for playoff wins (133), can't help himself. When asked in a postgame press conference about a spectacular save in Colorado's 4-3 overtime victory in Game 4—he had caught Scott Young's point-blank shot midway through the third period, then swept his glove upward in a Statue of Liberty pose—Roy said jokingly, "I was too fast, eh?" Considering that Young, a 40-goal sniper, was 15 feet away when he snapped a shot that most likely reached 70 mph, Roy had reacted in roughly .14 of a second. Too fast, indeed.
In the Blues' dressing room about 30 minutes later, a downtrodden Turek finally spoke, not in self-deprecating jibes but in almost a whisper. Turek is called Large by his teammates, a self-evident nickname considering that he's 6'3" and 215 pounds, but his diminutive self-esteem has been an issue since St. Louis was upset by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of last year's postseason. In that series Turek was beaten by a flurry of bizarre goals, including one accidentally tossed past him by one of his own defensemen, Marc Bergevin. In the wake of the playoff fiasco, Turek's goals-against average during the regular season shot up by a third of a goal (to 2.28) compared with that of 1999-2000, prompting general manager Larry Pleau to ponder trading for another goalie during the winter. Turek is 31 and a two-year starter on a Stanley Cup-caliber team, but he remains an insecure wreck, a goalie whose mental state must be monitored constantly.
His teammates tried to be supportive last week—"He's the reason we're here," said center Pierre Turgeon after Game 4, presumably referring to the Blues' conference semifinal victory over the Dallas Stars and not the 3-1 deficit to the Avalanche—but Turek would have none of it. "Who else could be more shocked than me?" he said. For the second consecutive match his inept play had buried St. Louis early. "We're always trying to claw back," Blues captain Chris Pronger said, without singling out Turek. "That takes a lot of energy and a lot of excitement from us." Like Sisyphus, St. Louis wore down from pushing the boulder up the hill, although Turek was so shaky in the first period last Friday that he probably couldn't have stopped that boulder either.
Roy and Turek both provided textbook playoff goaltending, although Turek's was the one circled with the red slash through him. Even in the best of times Turek struggles with balance and squaring himself to the shooter, and the start of Game 3 in St. Louis was anything but the best of times. Usually a capable puckhandler, Turek hurt himself by shooting a puck into the stands on a clearing pass despite the absence of any pressure. Sixteen seconds into the ensuing penalty for delay of game, Bourque blasted a goal through Turek's pads from the blue line on the first Colorado shot. Two minutes later, Turek, subduing pucks more than stopping them, diverted the next shot—nothing special considering that fourth-liner Chris Dingman had rolled it on net—on his knees, merely shoving it to his right, whence Dan Hinote slipped a backhand rebound into a yawning net.
The shots Turek botched in Game 4 were of a slightly higher quality, and his blunders came in more rapid succession. On consecutive shots during a 78-second span in the first period, center Steven Reinprecht scored on a backhand when Turek flopped early; center Joe Sakic slapped in a wobbly, unscreened 40-footer; and Bourque again found the net from the blue line. St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville pulled Turek in favor of backup Johnson after the third goal, but only for 1:23, enough time for Turek to regain his composure. Early in the series Avalanche coach Bob Hartley, trying to plant a seed of doubt in Turek's psyche, had twice said that he wouldn't be surprised to see Johnson play before the series was over.
After those three quick goals Turek gathered himself as he had in Game 3, during which he preserved a shred of credibility (and ultimately a 4-3 double-overtime win) by reaching back with his stick as forward St�phane Yelle's backhand was heading toward an open net in the first OT and barely deflecting the shot with the shaft. The puck grazed the outside of the post, a save necessitated only because Turek had fumbled a routine shot seconds earlier.