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January 18, 2012 | 11:45am ET
Invaluable asset
 Patrick Kearns reminds everyone that backup goalies are a key component to every successful team.

NEW YORK, NY -- Though they're often overlooked, backup goaltenders are a necessary ingredient in the recipe for success. He may ride the pine for roughly 60 games per season, it doesn't mean the backup isn't an integral part of a team.

Take last years Prince of Whales, and Clarence S. Campbell winners, the Boston Bruins, and Vancouver Canucks, for example.

While both teams reeked of elite throughout the ranks, they both had some of the best backup goaltending in the NHL.

One of the main positives of having a reliable No. 2, is the amount of rest that a team's go-to-guy can get throughout the regular season. Tim Thomas captured his second Vezina trophy, while making only 58 starts in the regular season. His backup, who would be the starter on many teams, Tuukka Rask, has had great numbers while starting for the Bruins.

The arrangement of having two number one guys between the pipes, has hardly caused dissension in Boston.

"All the things we're doing with regards to our goaltending decisions are all positive for the individuals and the team," Bruins coach Claude Julien explained to NESN. "It's a non-issue. I think they enjoy playing with each other and they're very supportive of each other. It's a great situation for the Boston Bruins."

Another young netminder, playing across the continent is Cory Schneider who has proven himself to be more than capable. He has posted very respectable numbers, stepping in when Roberto Luongo is occasionally off his game. Schneider even stepped in during five playoff contests last year, and more than held his own.

Naturally, there has been rampant speculation regarding the future of two of the games brightest young goalies, but right now, the Bruins and Canucks are happy to boast two of the best goaltending tandems in the league.

Another team who has had an incredibly large amount of success this season, are the New York Rangers. For the past few years, Henrik Lundqvist has sat atop his throne in New York City, with no real reliable number two to give him the rest he needs for a deep playoff run. During the team's last few playoff appearances, he has struggled, looking as if the dregs of a long season took it's toll on him.

This year however, veteran back-up Martin Biron has played more than admirably whilst filling in for the King. It has even prompted head coach John Tortorella to often refer to his two netminders as "1" and "1A."

"It's not about giving Henrik Lundqvist rest," Tortorella said of how often Biron has gotten the start this season. "You've got to give Biron some credit here. It's about I have a darn good goalie. Right now, it's a No. 1 and a No. 1A."

Down in St. Louis, a team that has had a renaissance under recent head coaching hire, Ken Hitchcock, Blues goalie Jaraslov Halak is finding himself in a familiar situation... a battle for the number one spot. And unlike the case with struggling teams, both goaltenders in St. Louis have played so well, that it is all about riding the hot hand.

At the start of the season, it was Halak's job to lose, and lose it he did. Brian Elliott, who had been bounced around a bit in his first few years in the NHL was scooped off the bargain bin this past summer when Colorado didn't accept his qualifying offer. He was a man on fire to start the year, and gained himself a decent amount of separation from his teammate, Halak. His play has even garnered him a spot in the All-Star game.

"It's an honor to be selected, it's not something that you put as a goal," Elliott humbly said. "When it happens, it's pretty cool, you can't really put too much thought into it."

The tide has turned recently, and now it's Halak who has been a brick wall in net.

"He plays big," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Halak's homecoming in Montreal. "He plays out, he plays big. No holes. Working to see shots, fighting to see shots, battling. He just plays big now. He's what I saw in Montreal and what we've talked about for a little while."

Another young goaltender who has begun to emerge as a real stud has been Ryan Miller's backup, Jhonas Enroth. While Miller and the Sabres have struggled as of late, the 23 year-old has been more than adequate filling in when necessary. It is easy to see that the young Swede has a bright future in the NHL, and if the Sabres are able to turn themselves around, he could prove to be very valuable if Miller misses any time.

The future looked grim for Ray Emery just a short time ago. He had worn out his welcome in the NHL, and was looking for work overseas. After playing in the KHL for a brief stint, he suffered a potentially career ending injury. He has been injury prone for a lot of his career, but it appeared as if this would finally put an end to the tenure of one of the toughest guys to put on the pads over the last decade.

But, towards the end of last year, the Anaheim Ducks, who were desperate for goaltending help while Jonas Hiller battled a rather befuddling case of Vertigo, gave him a chance, and he certainly proved himself.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed Emery in the off-season to give young goalie Corey Crawford some nights off, and Emery has been more than thrilled to be part of the winning culture and step in when needed.

"Obviously, teams can get by with one guy who plays the majority of the time," Emery explained of the situation.

"But I think more often than not, it's beneficial to have the opportunity to give your main guy some nights off, at least when he needs them, and to have a guy who's played his ideal number of games going into the postseason or going into the stretch run of the year."

Finally, Jonathan Bernier, who according to Internet lore has been traded to just about every team in the NHL, has provided the LA Kings with a good sense of security. The team struggled to score goals for the better part of the season, forcing coaches to lean heavily on All-Star goaltender Jon Quick. But when Bernier takes his place between the pipes, it's clear that one day this kid will be a star. For now unfortunately, he will likely be behind Quick for the foreseeable future until Quick's contract situation is resolved.

It's clear to see how imperative it is to have a back-up guy to give a team's number one goaltender proper rest so he can battle deep into June. All around the NHL team's are giving their go-to-guys more rest in preparation. It's up to the back-ups to prove their worth.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

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