Behind North Stars' success in playoffs stands goalie Jon Casey

April 20, 1991|By Mike Augustin | Mike Augustin,Knight-Ridder News Service

ST. LOUIS -- The sort of roll the Minnesota North Stars are enjoying in the 1991 playoffs would not be possible without good goaltending.

The Stars have won five of seven playoff games, including three road games, against the two teams with the best records during the National Hockey League regular season, Chicago and St. Louis.

As the North Stars edged the Blues, 2-1, Thursday night in the first game of the Norris Division final series at St. Louis Arena, Minnesota goalie Jon Casey once again provided superb play.

"Give the credit to our goalie," Gaetan Duchesne said. "He was just awesome. I don't think we played that well, but a hot goaltender can carry a team."

Duchesne would get many arguments about how well the Stars played. He would get none about Casey being the man who led the way.

Casey stopped 31 shots. He was at his best during the third period, when the Blues finally arose from a deep slumber and buzzed the net in earnest.

In the Stars' four consecutive victories, Casey has played 240 minutes and allowed three goals.

"It's why he gets the big bucks," Basil McRae joked.

It's also why the North Stars could collect big playoff money by continuing to advance.

"We can't be satisfied," Casey said. "St. Louis did well against us this year [the Blues won the season series, 5-1-2]. This is the first time I have beaten them this season. You know they are going to be working as hard as they can in the next game."

The crowd of 16,911 tried to rattle Casey with some derisive chants. The fans seemed to be repelled as readily as the Blues' shots.

"I don't really hear that stuff," Casey said.

Minnesota coach Bob Gainey said stopping pucks was just one way that Casey has excelled during the postseason.

"Jon is sharp stopping shots," Gainey said. "He has also been sharp at moving the puck away from the net and up ice. He is a very good puck-handler. Jon backstopped us and made the saves we needed."

Minnesota goalie coach Chico Resch said he has sensed since late in the first series against Chicago that Casey "has the feel."

"He is just moving laterally so beautifully," Resch said. "Plus, he is standing up, not going down prematurely. He's moving the puck to the right people.

"A goalie is best when he is playing well in combination with his defense and forwards. When he is hot, they might not be. When he happens to misplay a shot, they clear it away, that sort of thing. Right now, that sort of chemistry is cooking for Jon and whichever other players are on the ice at one time."

"I can't do it myself," Casey said. "I am just part of the team."

For proof of that, consider the winning goal Thursday. It was scored in the final minute of the first period by Shane Churla with an assist from McRae.

Churla and McRae are two of the North Stars' most valuable players because they are tough guys who keep the opposition honest.

But scorers? Hardly.

Churla had two goals and two assists in 40 regular-season games. McRae also appeared in 40 regular-season games (both players missed half the season with injuries) and had one goal and three assists.

A collision at mid-ice between St. Louis teammates Dan Quinn and Jeff Brown set up the rush down the ice that also included North Stars defenseman Neil Wilkinson. McRae centered a pass to Churla, and the big right winger fired the puck past a startled Vince Riendeau, the Blues' goaltender.

"It's not that rare, come on now," McRae said, laughing at the recollection. "We have this drill where we mix up the other team so much they bang into each other. Once Shane and I are on the ice alone, we can score most of the time."

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