Nobody will ever confuse Flyers goaltender Martin Biron for New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur. One is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and just won his record-breaking 552nd game last week. The other won his 194th last night. However, the most important headline from last night's tilt at the Wachovia Center saw Biron and the Flyers knock off Brodeur and the Devils in a key Atlantic Division fight.
The win gave the Flyers some more breathing room in the Eastern Conference, and more importantly, stability to what has been a tenuous goaltending situation in 2009. After a fantastic spring of 2008 that saw Biron lead the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals, he came into camp as the presumable number one. It didn't mean Antero Niittymaki was about to cave in and allow Biron to control the majority of the playing time.
Niittymaki had a strong training camp, and gained the confidence of coach John Stevens throughout the season. As recently as a month ago, it was unknown as to who the Flyers' number one netminder was. It wasn't that Biron was playing poorly non-stop. It was the fact that Biron had little consistency. Take his stretch in January, for example, when he started the month by allowing four goals in a win against Anaheim, then held Washington, Minnesota and Toronto to one goal a piece in his next three games played.
Biron then finished the month allowing four goals twice and three goals once, opening the door for Niittymaki to earn more playing time. Just as it appeared Niittymaki was hitting his peak, his stock fell. Call it bad timing, or call it Biron stepping up his game, but it's become clear that, heading into the playoffs, Biron is once again No. 1 in Philadelphia.
Suddenly, he has allowed just 17 goals in his last nine appearances. His overall save percentage is .917 percent, nearly on par with his .918 percent last season. Just when it appeared the Flyers may have been in for some rough waters, Biron defeated his former team in Buffalo on Friday, with help from the resurgent Daniel Briere, who had two goals in the game. On Sunday, it was a monumental win in Pittsburgh as Biron stopped 27 of 28 Penguin shots. Last night, he beat the best goaltender in the game in Brodeur.
Despite some Flyers' fans hatred of the fact that the team has lacked a number one goaltender since the departure of the original version of Ron Hextall, Biron is the closest thing they've had to one in a long time. He may not be an elite goaltender, but he has compiled some impressive numbers. Only Biron, Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Niklas Backstrom, and Tim Thomas have had a save percentage of .915 in each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile, he currently has a higher save percentage than Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Nabokov, and Miikka Kiprusoff this season.
The Flyers made a huge step towards reaching the Stanley Cup with their Eastern Conference Finals appearance last year. As the calendar rolled to April, Biron was the masked man tending the twine. This year, it should be no different. He may not be the game's all-time wins leader. But don't be confused, this Marty has Cup dreams.