For the four goalies fighting for two spots on the Washington Capitals' roster, the battle is down to the last 60 minutes.
The Caps play their final preseason game tonight, and coach Jim Schoenfeld could announce his decision as early as tomorrow.
Schoenfeld will choose among seasoned Don Beaupre, youthful veteran Rick Tabaracci and developing Olie Kolzig and Byron Dafoe.
Against the Quebec Nordiques tonight, Tabaracci is likely to get most of the work because, having been injured, he has had the least chance to demonstrate what he can do.
"It's a hard decision to make," said Schoenfeld. "No one has been clear cut. Tabaracci has been hurt, but when he's played, he's played very well. Beaupre and Kolzig have played well, except Saturday [in a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers], when Olie struggled a little bit. And Byron has played less well, although he showed great character in his last game, coming up with big saves when the game was on the line.
"It's not what I was hoping for. Obviously, I was hoping for two guys to be head and shoulders above the rest."
Going into this final tuneup, Schoenfeld has a number of things to see. It appears increasingly likely that veteran defenseman Kevin Hatcher and talented rookie Brendan Witt will not be available at the start of this season. And though the door has not been closed on either, decisions have to be made on who will fill those two big holes.
And on offense, Schoenfeld is disappointed that he hasn't been able to settle on two strong wings to play with the Caps' big gun, center Joe Juneau.
Dimitri Khristich looks set on Juneau's left side, but who will be on the right? The player who looked best there early in camp, Rob Pearson, is out for up to six weeks with a broken thumb, and Schoenfeld said, "I'm not comfortable with anyone else we've seen there."
Thus the cupboard is bare for the Juneau line but overloaded at goalie.
The Caps have sent rookie goalie Jim Carey to Portland, and of the four still here, only Dafoe can return there this fall without having to clear waivers.
But even if Dafoe does return to Portland, that would leave three with the parent club.
What then? A trade? Keep three?
"That's their problem," said Tabaracci. "They've got some big decisions to make."
Judging by the goalie performances, the best guess is that the Caps will open this season, scheduled to begin Saturday in Toronto, with Beaupre and Kolzig on the main roster -- barring a mesmerizing performance by Tabaracci tonight.
Beaupre has been solid, with a 2.57 goals-against average, and Kolzig had allowed one goal in 100 minutes in two games, before Saturday's loss. That performance drove his GAA from 0.60 to 2.65.
"A year ago, I definitely had the feeling the organization wanted me to win the No. 1 spot," said Tabaracci, 25, who was sidelined at the start of last season with a knee injury and continued to have knee problems off and on throughout the year, before finishing 13-14-2 with a 3.08 GAA.
"I think it's a little more wide-open this preseason," he said. "But this is a fresh start. For the first time since I've been here, I'm close to being 100 percent healthy. Finally, I'm playing without a knee brace on my right knee. I can make moves now that I couldn't make last year."
But will tonight's game be enough to keep him in the picture?
Before tonight, Tabaracci, who pulled groin muscles early in training camp, had played part of only one game and allowed two goals.
Kolzig made the main roster for the start of last season, when Tabaracci hurt his knee. But then the 24-year-old also got injured. He returned to Portland, where he earned American Hockey League MVP honors and led the Pirates to the Calder Cup championship.
Beaupre, 33, refused to be pushed aside last season and wound up playing 53 games and going 24-16-8 with a 2.84 GAA.
"I came to camp with a wait-and-see attitude," said Beaupre. "Now it's getting down to the end. I'm focused on getting a chance to start the first game."