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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pittsburgh Penguins Surprise Goaltender Sensations

Marc-Andre Fleury is injured.

For many teams an injury to their starting goaltender can be deadly. Just ask the New Jersey Devils. Since Martin Brodeur's injury the team has definitely struggled. However the thought of losing a starting goaltender for a long period of time does not strike the same kind of fear into the hearts of Penguins fans. Why?

Perhaps is is because the franchise has a history of surprise heroes suddenly emerging in between the pipes. Today we will take a look at some of these masked men who seemingly came from nowhere and stole the show.

Some goaltenders are expected to be starters. With people like Marc-Andre Fleury, people who are drafted first overall, it is assumed that they will one day be their team's go-to guy. It doesn't always work out, but when it does it's not a surprise.

Other people are different. For whatever reason success is not expected from them. They are not meant to steal the show or carry the team. They are meant to be dependable. They are meant to share the load when their team plays back-to-back games or cover for a starting goaltender who is injured or is on a cold streak. However, sometimes these men rise to the occasion and become the star.

Frank Pietrangelo: Pietrangelo was primarily the backup to starting goaltender Tom Barrasso. In the 1991 Stanley Cup playoffs the Penguins trailed the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in their first round series. Things looked even worse for the Pens when Barrasso was injured prior to game six. It looked like the Penguins playoff dreams were about to end. Then Frank Pietrangelo stepped in. He made what is now known only as "The Save," absolutely robbing Petr Stastny from what looked to be a sure goal. The Penguins won games six and seven to eliminate the Devils. Barrasso returned and the team went on to win the Stanley Cup, but none of it would have been possible without Frank Pietrangelo's performance. Pietrangelo was later traded to the Hartford Whalers and left the NHL in 1994.

Patrick Lalime: Lalime was brought in to play backup for starter Ken Wregget in 1996. He did his job well, but when Wregget was injured he really stepped up. Lalime set the longest unbeaten streak to start a career when he went 16 games without a loss (a 14-0-2 record.) His first loss was to the Colorado Avalanche in overtime. He recorded three shutouts in 39 games during the 1996-1997 season but his luck seemed to run out as the season continued. Wregget returned to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs and Lalime returned to his backup role. Lalime left the Penguins during the offseason when he was unable to agree on a new contract. He has since played for the Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks before ending up in his current role, backing up Ryan Miller on the Buffalo Sabres. He never quite reached the heights he did in 1996, but his unexpected play that year was legendary and the record he set has not been broken.

Johan Hedberg: The man who would be known as "The Moose" was called up om short notice from the Manitoba Moose of the IHL. He still wore a blue helmet bearing a moose for the remainder of the 2000-2001 season, including the playoffs. He truly shone during the playoffs, recording two shutouts as the Penguins reached the conference finals for the first time since 1996. Unfortunately the Penguins were beaten by the New Jersey Devils in five games. Hedberg matched up against NHL legends Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur and held his own. He was eventually traded from the Penguins in 2003 and now plays on the Atlanta Thrashers. His helmet still sports a moose.

Ty Conklin: The most recent example of a backup goaltender stepping up when needed is Ty Conklin. When Marc-Andre Fleury was injured last season it looked like the Penguins were in trouble. However Conklin, a career backup at that point, went 17–6–5 while Fleury was injured and helped the Penguins secure their first division title since 1998. He left to join the Detroit Red Wings during the offseason, but last year Ty Conklin was one of the biggest stories in Pittsburgh.

The performances of these four men have proven that an unknown goaltender or a career backup can step up and steal the show. Can Dany Sabourin do the same? Will he need to? The extent of Fleury's injury is not yet known, but it is somewhat comforting that the Penguins organization has a history of surprise heroes in net. -A Pittburgh Penguins Blog. Game previews and recaps, commentary, news and more. This is the blog to follow the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.
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