Jean-Sebastien Giguere's play during the Mighty Ducks' first-round sweep was surprising based on the fact it was his first postseason series and he was facing the Detroit Red Wings, the defending Stanley Cup champions with a roster full of Hall of Famers. But the foundation for his performance -- and the confidence his teammates drew from it -- was laid during the regular season.
From Dec. 8-18, Giguere strung together three straight shutouts and a scoreless streak of 237:07, the longest in the NHL since 1950 and the third-longest by an individual goaltender during the modern era. He also finished in the top 10 in save percentage (.920), wins (34) and shutouts (8), and helped his team tie the New Jersey Devils for the most wins in one-goal games (24-15). He basically took his game to the next level, which is why he'll end up among the top five candidates for the Vezina Trophy.
Technically, we've known all along that he can move side to side and that he has excellent positioning. The next step for Giguere was the mental part of it -- could he withstand the pressure of the playoffs? Going into Joe Louis Arena and making the hard saves look easy -- especially through three overtimes in Game 1 -- was a huge first step for him and his teammates. Anytime teammates aren't looking over their shoulders, worrying about what's happening behind them, they become bigger and better players.
The way that coach Mike Babcock has the team playing in front of Giguere reminds me a little bit of the 1995 New Jersey Devils, who swept Detroit in the Stanley Cup final. The effort it took for the shooters to actually get through the defense and to the goalie took its toll on their sharpness; they weren't picking corners. The Red Wings were shooting right at Giguere, which is a compliment to the goaltender's positioning.
If Giguere was younger (he's 25), I'd be a bit concerned about whether or not he'd be able to continue his play with such a significant layoff between series. But he's got more experience than most first-year playoff goalies and he's much more sound fundamentally. The extra days off will give him time to polish up on his movements and focus on whomever the next set of shooters might be. Once a series is over, a goalie turns the page on his preparation. Instead of envisioning a one-timer from Brett Hull, he'll focus his next opponents and the book on them.
The foundation of confidence that Giguere built during the four-game sweep of the Red Wings will be difficult for another team to knock down. I don't see him losing any momentum.
Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.