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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Talbot: His Chapter

Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog, Bill Ranford and Dwayne Roloson. If you take a look at the five Edmonton Oilers teams that sipped from the Stanley Cup and the 2006 edition of the team that came within one game of making it a half-dozen, they had one thing in common – great goaltending. That’s not really surprising. Most Stanley Cup champions do. Not all, but most.

Fuhr and Moog took care of the first four Oiler sips behind some remarkable talent, to understate, while Ranford was the crease man on the somewhat surprising team that won in 1990, pad-stacking his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP. Then, back in 2006, when Oiler fans last had a reason to scream their faces off, along came Roloson, who played the best hockey of his career in a span of eight weeks before his knee and Oiler hopes buckled under the weight of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Andrew Ladd in Carolina.

Just eight games into his first post-season with the Oilers, I say Cam Talbot has added his name to that list. Yes, there’s much more work to do against the Anaheim Ducks before the Oilers reach the Western Conference final, let alone the Stanley Cup, but Talbot has put himself firmly in the conversation by staking the Oilers to a 2-0 series lead going into Game 3 at Rogers Place Sunday — his latest handiwork coming in Friday’s 2-1 win in Anaheim.

Against the Ducks, Talbot has stopped 72 of the 76 shots he’s faced in 5-3 and 2-1 wins for a .947 save percentage. Through his eight games, including dispatching the San Jose Sharks in six games in the first round, Talbot’s sitting at .934 with two shutouts. In a series that’s pick ‘em in many ways, Talbot has been flat-out better than his Anaheim counterpart, John Gibson, who sits at .889. It’s not even close. Talbot stole that 2-0 lead Friday. This much we know.

THE PUCK STOPS HERE

Mar 10, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) makes a save during warmup against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not putting Talbot in the same class as Fuhr, Moog and Ranford. Let’s get that straight. They have Cup rings. I’m not even suggesting Talbot is on par, yet, with Roloson. Being two wins from reaching a conference final isn’t the same as carrying a team on his back through three series as Roloson did in 2006 before Bergeron and Ladd ended an 18-game stretch in which Rollie the Goalie stopped pucks at a .927 clip. Talbot still has to finish the Ducks.

What I am saying is that here and now, Talbot is more than giving the Oilers a chance to win. He’s the biggest single reason the Oilers have the Ducks on the ropes coming home. Not the only reason, but he’s the horse this team is riding right now, just like Fuhr, Moog and Ranford were before him. It was interesting, then, to hear Fuhr’s take on what he’s seeing with Talbot.

“I thought it was awesome. It’s one of those where you steal a game, so it was fun to watch,” said Fuhr, who was in Anaheim for Friday’s game. “Cam played really well and they were good defensively. I thought he was really calm. It was a little helter-skelter around the net at times but he was in control the whole time. It gives your team confidence. And you can tell by the way the Oilers are playing that he gives them all sorts of confidence.”

I’ll call Fuhr on the “good defensively” part, but maybe it’s all relative. Fuhr knows all about being left to his own devices with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the rest of the Oilers from the dynasty days up ice trying to fill the net at the other end. Fuhr’s forte was never allowing the next goal. Talbot, it goes without saying, doesn’t have the same offensive arsenal at his disposal Fuhr did, but he’s been locking things down when breakdowns happen, when it matters most. Like Friday.

THE BLUE PAINT

Apr 12, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) and defensemen Andrej Sekera (2) along with San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski (8) looks for a loose puck during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Gretzky commented on Talbot the other day, referencing more than numbers when it comes to what he’s seeing. I know some people aren’t big on putting too much into intangibles that can’t be run on a spreadsheet or quantified – leadership, confidence etc. – but the Great One touched on something I think makes Talbot what he is. If it’s good enough for Gretzky, it’s good enough for me.

“He’s extremely unselfish,” Gretzky said. “You never see him point a finger at a guy. You never see him get upset at a defenceman if somebody misses the defensive coverage. He just grabs the pucks and throws it back out and says, ‘Let’s go.’ It starts in net, I think, and he’s definitely the right guy for this team and he deserves all the credit and accolades he’s getting right now.”

Right now, Talbot is my MVP. It’s too early to talk about that now, of course, but that’s a buzz that’s bound to pick up if the Oilers can beat the Ducks twice more to set up a date against Nashville or St. Louis. That’s an “if” that seemed like pie-in-the-sky crazy talk a couple of weeks ago, but it damn sure isn’t now.

After a decade of nothingness, The Oilers will take the ice Sunday two wins from reaching the Western Conference final for the first time since Roloson, Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth and company dispatched the Ducks in five games – Roloson stopped 32 of 33 shots in a 2-1 series-clinching win — to reach the Stanley Cup.

STEP DOWN

Mar 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Pardy (6), goalie Cam Talbot (33) and center Matt Hendricks (23) celebrate win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. The Oilers defeated the Flyers, 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The old sports saying, as grisly as it is, is that when you’ve got your foot on the opponent’s throat, you’ve got to step down and finish things. That’s where the Oilers are right now after taking those two games in Anaheim. They’re in the driver’s seat up 2-0 in the series, but taking a 3-0 lead is another advantage altogether.

Just four teams in NHL history have overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win. That’s four times in 184 series, and counting. That’s about 2.2 per cent. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to do it, going down 3-0 to San Jose before rallying to win in 2014. The Philadelphia Flyers did it against the Boston Bruins in 2010. The New York Islanders did it against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975. The Toronto Maple Leafs were the first, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the 1942 Stanley Cup final.

Of course, the teams will say what you’d expect them to say going into Game 3. The Ducks will insist it’s not over yet and talk about playing it one game at a time. The Oilers will echo that – coach Todd McLellan got started after Friday’s win. “We’ve got to be better,” he said, referencing Talbot’s theft of Game 2.

Up 2-0 or 2-1, it isn’t over. Get up 3-0 and the Oilers can close it out at home and make plans for Music City or the Show Me State while the Predators and Blues slug it out. Win Sunday.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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    • Alberta Ice

      Coming back from that 7-0 loss to San Jose shows the true mark of a champion. The overtime comeback the next game has put this Oilers TEAM on a next level. Great resiliency shown by Talbot in net to put that aberration behind him.

  • Watching last night I really noticed Talbot is in the zone. Anticipating, reacting and executing in that strange place where everything seems just a bit slower and pucks look like beach balls. That’s not easy to achieve nor maintain. It’s a real pleasure to observe for sure.

  • DannyGallivan

    With the exception of Talbot, we were badly outplayed in the last game. This is far from over if we repeat that kind of effort – Vegas or not. TM was right, we have to be a lot better if we are going to prevail. The 3rd game is key. The Ducks have their backs against the wall – it is their must-win game. Lets not plan the parade and the MVP trophy just yet.

  • toprightcorner

    I agree with what Fuhr is saying when he says the defense has been good. In general, as a team, they have not been great. The forwards are not getting the puck out when they get a chance, the opposition is getting into some good scoring areas and they are able to control the puck in the Oilers zone for long stretches.

    Where the Oilers defense has been really good at is boxing out players in front of the net and preventing them from getting crease front rebounds, the type of chances where 50% of goals are scored today. This is giving Talbot the opportunity to cover the puck instead of digging it out of his own net. Those are the types of plays the goalie loves because they never have a chance to make that save. Let the goalie take the saveable shots and the defense take away the the chances that Talbot has not chance on. That will get you far in the playoffs.

    The Oilers need to get more aggressive in their own zone and get the puck out when they have a chance. If they can force the ducks to dump and chase like they did with the Sharks, the Oilers will be much more successful defensively. The Ducks have been able to control the zone through passing and moving the puck, but they have not been as successful as winning the battles in the corners.

  • RyanCoke

    Robin your slowly starting to be my favorite writer here. Been enjoying your articles consistently all year. Big change from previous years when you were always grumpy. Amazing what winning does to our moods.

  • OilCan2

    Talbot was lights out starting for the Rangers when King Henry got injured. Cam then shouldered a heavy load in a season where Connor got gooned. Now he sets a club record for wins (NHL lead at 42) and starts stealing playoff games. He’s an overnight sensation;…. three years in the making.

  • kormega

    That’s about 2.2 per cent. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to do it, going down 3-0 to San Jose before rallying to win in 2014. The Philadelphia Flyers did it against the Boston Bruins in 2010.
    ———————-

    Weird, but Chiarelli and McLellan both had experience of getting into these cursed 2.2%. Hope they’ve put it in a rearview mirror, their work this season is just spectacular.

  • not so daily doug

    Reading that Gretzky quote I am reminded of watching Elliot in the Calgary net. Seems he was always glaring at the refs or his defenseman after a goal. Even if the defense has a breakdown or made a mistake, i am sure they never appreciated the “look” It is the same as a public dressing down.

    • Imagine the scene after a goaltender gave up a bad goal if teammates skated by giving the palms-up motion or the head-back eye roll. No different when a goaltender does that over a blown coverage etc. Talbot never does it. Ever.