The Matchup: Olaf Kolzig vs. Byron Dafoe
The Game: Washington at Boston, 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday
The Question: Who is the better man?
Everybody looks at goaltenders like pitchers or quarterbacks. How far have they gone? And what have they accomplished in the playoffs?
That's where you have to begin any comparison between goaltenders and good friends Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe. Even though they've been the best man at each other's weddings, Kolzig has been one place Dafoe hasn't: the Stanley Cup Finals.
Both players burst onto the scene at similar times. Kolzig spent his time in the minors and wasn't expected to play behind Bill Ranford in Washington. But Ranford got hurt on opening night last season and Kolzig was just phenomenal in relief, earning the No. 1 job and taking the Capitals to the finals. Everybody was saying, "Who is this guy?"
Dafoe has been through a couple of trades and played some steady hockey with the Kings. Then he was traded to Boston, and has been accomplishing a lot on a team with few expectations. He's been having huge games. And Kolzig's Capitals narrowly beat out Dafoe's Bruins last year in the playoffs, so there's a pretty fine line between the two players.
You'd have to give the edge to Kolzig because of the way he handled himself in the playoffs last year with all the pressure. Because he didn't have a lofty reputation before the playoffs, you could say he didn't feel much of the strain. He didn't have to live up to huge expectations of established goalies like Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, who have already created their own aura.
But Kolzig played so well, he nearly won the Conn Smythe Trophy, even though the Capitals lost in the finals. He may be a notch below Roy and other goalies who have won a title, but Kolzig has created a reputation he now has to live up to. Dafoe hasn't reached that level yet even though he played some pretty spectacular hockey for Boston last year.
The Capitals have had a ton of injuries again this year. They have all the team pressure from making the finals last year. And Kolzig's feeling more personal pressure from his new reputation. Coach Ron Wilson said sometimes he's tried to win the games himself when the Captials have gone through some long losing streaks. He's experiencing what it's like having to maintain a high level of play the way the top goaltenders do. That's a major step forward.
Dafoe's team doesn't have incredible talent. The Bruins work hard and rely a lot on Dafoe to play well. He's maintained a good level of play, but he hasn't had to make that breakthrough step the same way Kolzig has.
There's not a lot of difference between Kolzig and Dafoe. Maybe given the same circumstances with the same team, they'd be the same. I really like Kolzig's style of play when he's on his game. He can make it look so easy. I give him a little bit of an edge, but not by much.
Brian Engblom played 11 seasons as a defenseman in the NHL and now works as an analyst on ESPN hockey broadcasts.