The Carolina Hurricanes had to turn to 42-year-old emergency backup goalie Dave Ayres on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He not only held his own against one of the NHL’s most powerful offensive teams, he beat them.
Ayres, a Zamboni driver for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the emergency backup for both teams on Saturday night, was forced into action midway through the second period after Hurricanes goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer had to exit the game due to injury. He ended up stopping eight out of the 10 shots he faced — while also recording a shot on goal of his own — in a 6-3 Hurricanes win.
The fact that an emergency goalie had to enter the game is fascinating enough.
But that he played as well as he did, and managed to get credit for the win makes it one of the most stunning accomplishments in recent NHL memory.
When Scott Foster, an accountant by day, made his emergency appearance for the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago he only had to play 14 minutes against the Winnipeg Jets. He also did not get credit for the win.
Ayres played double that on Saturday, on the road, against what should have been a desperate Toronto team that fighting to make the playoffs and avoid one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. Instead, it was the Hurricanes that found an extra gear and completely dominated the game from the moment Ayres entered.
The Maple Leafs managed just 10 shots on goal against Ayres, and after scoring on two of their first three in the second period, were completely shutout by him in the third period.
For Ayres it adds another fascinating chapter to an already unbelievable story.
He has dressed as a backup for a number of American Hockey League games, and has also filled in at practice for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He is also a kidney transplant survivor.
The Hurricanes ended up in this situation after Mrazek — who was already filling in for Reimer, the Hurricanes’ starter on Saturday — was leveled in a collision by Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford.
Obviously the big concern for the Hurricanes now is the status of Mrazek and Reimer (there is a report out of Chicago that the Hurricanes already reached out regarding a potential goalie trade), but this is a massive win for the Hurricanes, both in the standings and emotionally. Imagine the boost that has to give them to be facing that situation and not only play the way they did, but also collect two huge points in the standings.
On the other side, well, this is bad.
While the hyperbole around the Maple Leafs can sometimes be way too much, whatever they hear regarding this game is going to be completely justified.
They, too, are in a fight for a playoff spot and not only laid an egg in a huge game, they were thoroughly embarrassed from the time Ayres entered the game until the final horn. They could not generate sustained pressure, they managed just 10 total shots in 28 minutes against a 42-year-old emergency goalie, and they just looked bad. Not only that, but it was also a Hurricanes team that was already playing without one of its top defenseman (Dougie Hamilton) and then lost another one (Brett Pesce) during the game.