Legace gets another chance with Blues

It's interesting to see what has happened this week to Manny Legace and Chris Osgood, a couple of goalies the Detroit Red Wings thought were nothing more than back-ups not long ago.

Legace was named the league's No. 1 star for the week ending Jan. 6. The St. Louis Blues' No. 1 man in the net has pretty much been spot on all season, despite playing at less than 100 percent.

Osgood has played so well that not only has he emerged as the go-to guy in Detroit, but the Red Wings awarded the 35-year-old with a three-year contract extension on Wednesday.

Holy Hasek, what's going on here?

Both are feel-good stories with good guys, but for the purpose of this piece, it's Legace's time to shine. He's waited long enough for the credit he's due.

Legace had an absolutely sparkling regular season with the Red Wings in 2005-06, going 37-8-3 while posting the league's third-best goals-against average (2.19). Those 37 wins, along with 51 games and seven shutouts, were career highs.

But the playoffs were his undoing – whether justified or not – and his ticket out of Detroit. The Red Wings won Game 1 in overtime of the opening round, and then proceeded to lose four of the next five to eventual Stanley Cup finalist Edmonton, the West's No. 8 seed during the 2006 postseason.

Legace was the goalie of record in each game, logging a 2.65 GAA in the series and he quickly found out how fickle Detroit is with goalies. Hockeytown loves you when you're up, but look out if things go south.

And south is exactly where the Toronto native went, signing a free-agent deal with St. Louis.

The first few months of last season were tough. Legace was the starter, but he was only one of four goalies who saw playing time as the Blues' season was over by the holidays. After a seventh straight loss of an 11-game winless streak, Andy Murray took over behind the bench. It took some time, but St. Louis started to turn things around.

On a team that was 7-19-6 at its lowest point, Legace emerged by season's end with a 23-15-5 record, a 2.59 GAA, a .907 save percentage and five shutouts. All things considered, not a bad season for the 34-year-old goalie.

"Structure got put into play," Legace said. "That's been the big turnaround. … It's just carried over to this year. The work ethic has been there. The guys have just been doing a phenomenal job in front of me."

It's a fine line in the NHL, how much credit a goalie deserves, and how a goalie's play is judged when in fact it has so much to do with what happens in front of the 24 square feet he's trying to defend.

Murray is an experienced coach, a disciplinarian who demands attention to detail not unlike some other league coaches who have had success in more than one NHL outpost – Jacques Lemaire, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Babcock, Ron Wilson, Joel Quenneville, Alain Vigneault and Mike Keenan.

"You look around our division now with Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, all those guys are still competitive every night," Legace said. "It has to do with coaching, putting in structure, getting guys to stay on the same page for a whole season."

It might not grab headlines, but the reason for success is the same – committing to a defensive system. Under Murray, the Blues block shots, don't allow a glaring number of odd-man breaks, and they penalty kill like maniacs. At the end of the year, the best teams have the best defensive stats, and that last line of defense is always a successful goalie.

Which brings us back to Legace, who has 16 wins, a 2.06 GAA and .922 save percentage before games against Dallas and Columbus on back-to-back nights.

This is a guy who appeared in almost every minor league – AHL, IHL, ECHL – that included stops in Springfield, Richmond, Las Vegas, Long Beach and Manitoba. Why him, and why now?

"Goaltending is more experience, learning the game, learning the situations," said Legace, who despite lingering knee problems was signed to a two-year extension last February. "You've just got to learn how to control the game in your own best interest.

"As you get older, you just learn to forget things, let things go in the past. If you had a bad game, just let it go. If you have a good game, you let it go. You look on to the next day."