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
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
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.
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.