During the 2019 offseason, the Calgary Flames signed free agent goaltender Cam Talbot to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. In fact, they swapped goalies with their provincial rival Edmonton Oilers, who signed Mike Smith to a one-year deal as well. The Flames move for Talbot was seen as them signing an experienced veteran who could bring stability to the position, and be a mentor to David Rittich, who was penciled in as their number one.
The start of the 2019-20 season was much different than the ending, as Rittich was fantastic, and selected to his first NHL All-Star Game as a result. Talbot, on the other hand, struggled early, and wasn’t seeing much playing time as a result. However, as the season went on, Rittich’s play became wildly inconsistent, and Talbot started seeing more playing time, and played much better, as a result. In fact, chatter had started around the city as to who the team’s number one goalie should be moving forward.
Unfortunately for Talbot, the season ended up being shut down in mid-March, as he was starting to really heat up. This seemed beneficial for Rittich, who was seeing his starts decrease at the time, but hadn’t yet been considered the team’s backup. At the time of the stoppage, Rittich had appeared in 48 games on the season, and Talbot just 26. As a result, when the league announced the Stanley Cup Playoffs would happen this summer, the majority of fans and reporters alike assumed Rittich would be the team’s starter.
Instead, head coach Geoff Ward, who knows his team more than almost anybody else, decided to go with Talbot for the start of the series. While it was a risky decision, it has certainly paid off early on. The Flames, thanks in large part to Talbot, were able to knock off the Winnipeg Jets in four out of a possible five games. Game 4 was Talbot’s best of the series, as he made many highlight-reel stops and ended up with a 31-save shutout.
During the preview of this series, many, including myself, had it going right down to the wire. There was no doubt these two teams were quite similar in terms of talent. However, the one position where the Jets appeared to be much better off was in the crease. Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who is highly regarded as one of the best in the league, was coming off arguably the best season in his career and will likely win the Vezina Trophy as a result.
However, during the short series it was Talbot, not Hellebuyck, who looked like the potential Vezina Trophy winner. Hellebuyck looked extremely average with a 3.04 goals against average (GAA) and a .904 save percentage (SV%), while Talbot was simply outstanding, posting an incredible 1.51 GAA and a .945 SV%.
What makes his numbers even more incredible is the fact that he played four games in just six days. While that many games in a short span can cause fatigue for some goalies, it didn’t appear to affect Talbot at all, as his play improved even more as the series went on.
This was a huge series win for the Flames, and Talbot arguably played the biggest role in it. His calm and collective approach appeared to instill confidence in his teammates, as players like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan played better than we’ve seen in past playoff series.
For now, the Flames will have a bit of a break as they wait for the rest of the series taking place in both Edmonton and Toronto to conclude. As of now, they do not know who they will face in the next round. However, one thing is for certain, and that is that Talbot will be the man between the pipes for that series.