If this were the early 1990s and the Stanley Cup finals had Ron Hextall and Mike Vernon opposing each other in goal, no one would have raised an eyebrow.
Hextall was the playoffs MVP in 1987 as a rookie and Vernon had an outstanding Cup final in 1989 as Calgary won the NHL title.
Seeing Hextall and Vernon in net for the start of the Cup finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings last night was a little surprising.
Hextall, 33, finished the season poorly for the Flyers and only got a chance in the playoffs after Garth Snow struggled late in the second round. After a horrible second game in the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers, Hextall took over for good and has played very well.
Vernon, 34, seemed to be a lame duck in Detroit most of the season with his contract running out. However, coach Scotty Bowman turned to him for the playoffs and he’s been spectacular, posting a 1.82 goals-against average in 16 games.
“Well, I guess you can never count those old guys out,” said Vernon, who like Hextall has a talented young goalie (Chris Osgood) as his backup. “We’re stubborn I guess, and we just both want the opportunity to play. I am sure he feels the same way. I think we are both pretty ecstatic about being here now.”
Hextall had his doubts about playing after Snow allowed 18 goals in the first eight playoff games.
“I feel great that I have been able to contribute,” said Hextall, who allowed seven goals in 204 minutes against the Rangers. “When the playoffs started Snowy played so well, you know, it looked like I would never get in. But I always kept the faith that at some point this team was going to need me and I tried to work hard in practice.”
To his credit, Hextall didn’t complain about not playing.
Vernon also had a time this year when he could have complained. He only played in 12 of Detroit’s first 41 games as Osgood handled the work load.
While the rumors circulated of an impending trade, Vernon wasn’t moved.
“Scotty knew that all a player asks is for the opportunity to play and to prove his stuff,” Vernon said. “This is a great opportunity for both of us now.”
If either Vernon or Hextall falters in this series, Osgood and Snow are ready to play.
Osgood feels he would have put the Red Wings in the finals just as easily as Vernon.
“I could, but it’s not all the goalie,” Osgood said. “Mike would agree, the goalie can’t do it alone. It doesn’t work that way anymore. But I think I could have (gotten the Red Wings to the finals), the same way Mike thought he could. You have to think that way to be a goalie in Detroit, confident in yourself.”
Snow also wants the chance to play, but he also refuses to complain.
“It’s a coach’s decision and I can’t control it,” he said. “I just go out and play when they ask me.”