Book excerpt: Curtis Joseph on being the ‘factor’ vs. the Blackhawks

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This excerpt from Cujo: The Untold Story of My Life On and Off the Ice by Curtis Joseph with Kirstie McLellan Day is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop.org, or www.triumphbooks.com/Cujo.

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I remember after one of the anthems, Chicago started a checking line, which meant they were going to dump it in and then run our defence. It set the tone right away. Jeff Brown came back to me and said, “Cujo, play the puck,” because he didn’t want to be plastered up against the glass. They had speed and size. Wingers like Jocelyn Lemieux or Jeremy Roenick would rocket in at a hundred miles an hour, ready to clobber anybody near the puck. The strategy was to flatten our D every chance they got, wear them down. The more we got hit, the more likely a turnover might happen, and in the playoffs, you only need one to turn a game around. It worked like a symphony. And they were very good at it.

When they dumped it in, I went after everything. This meant that, instead of turning around and skating back for it, our defenceman would put his stick out and hold up the offensive player for a second and a half, and then let him go. That second was all the time I had to skate around behind the net, stop the shoot-in and pass it off. If one of their forwards hit me, they’d get a penalty.

The first ten minutes of a game were crucial. We had to hold off the attack and the enormous energy they brought. It was “Okay, this is survival. I’ve got to play the puck around the glass and make sure my D doesn’t get hammered. And make sure we don’t get scored on early. They can’t keep up this intensity for sixty minutes. If we can weather the storm, we’re going to be okay.” That’s what it was like, playing those guys in that building at that time.

After we upset the Hawks 4–3 in Game One, we knew they were going to come after us harder than ever three nights later. It was rough out there. Most of the eleven penalties called in the game were for roughing, charging, high-sticking and even kneeing.

We were competitive because we had traded a lot of toughness for talent. We still had Kelly Chase and Garth Butcher, but mostly we were loaded. Hully would become the fourth-leading goal scorer in the history of the league. Shanahan is a Hall of Famer, and then there was Craig Janney.

Craig was one of the greatest centres ever. He had 106 points that year. He was so smooth, and so underrated, a brilliant hockey player and a super-compassionate man. His game was directly related to his off-ice personality. He was a giver. Terrific at finding the open man. He’d rather pass the puck than put one in. He was reminiscent of Adam Oates, for whom he’d been traded. Don’t get me wrong, he scored plenty, but he was generous to a fault. I loved Craig Janney. He’d sit there and smirk and smile and laugh. Always fun, happy and positive.

Bob Bassen was all heart, as were Richie and Ronnie Sutter and Dave Lowry. And then look at our D, led by Jeff Brown and Rick Zombo. Z was integral, but you never heard much about it. He always played against the best of the best. And yet, even at the pinnacle of his career, he was more or less unknown. Shutting down the opposition’s best line? That’s big. You have to be damn good. But he never got the accolades he deserved. He didn’t have points, and his plus/minus was average. That’s all a lot of sportswriters see. But as a goalie, I relied on him big time. Just one of a long line of amazing players we had through the early ’90s.

As for the Blackhawks, they definitely had talent. Chelios was good — at thirty-one he was so incredibly fit that he was still, effectively, a young player. He’d come down to my end every once in a while and start yelling at me. Oh man, the obscenities — the gist being “We’re coming for you! We’re coming for you and we’re going to kill you!” I was trying to maintain focus and he was trying to get me off balance. But I recognized it as a great compliment to me. I thought, “This is good. It means I’m a factor in this series.”

I remember Roenick running around crushing people. For a skilled guy, he could hit. But like I told you before, the one guy I had to really pay attention to was Steve Larmer. He was thirty-two and he hadn’t missed a game in eleven years. He was two years from retirement, but he was still dangerous. He seemed unfazed by anything that was happening in the building. He had great patience, great poise, and then, suddenly, he would just rocket that puck into the top corner. I had to know where he was at all times.

That entire week, it felt like I was in a bubble and I was riding a wave. I didn’t think about it too much. I just got up, went to the rink and followed my routine. No superstitions, no rituals. I made a conscious decision early on not to hang my game on rituals. I concentrated on one thing. Focus.

Standing in my crease in Game Two, I found myself in a calm spot in the middle of the hectic world around me. The game ended with my first playoff shutout, 2–0. I was in the zone. It starts with the eyes — specifically, the fovea, a small depression at the back of the retina where visual acuity is highest. The fovea only picks up a tiny bit of your field of vision, so if you’re looking at something large, you need to move your eyes to take it all in. A lot of adjustments are needed. That’s why you see goalies moving and twitching so much. The more experienced goalies get, the quicker we are to get into a “quiet eye” state, meaning we stop shifting our gaze around sooner. We know where to focus our eyes.

Game Three, in St. Louis, was another shutout. It was 3–0 this time. Game Three is always the big game. It’s the swing game. Again, I was in the zone, connected to the puck. I could feel it moving along the ice and knew exactly where it was going. Other times, it seemed to be the size of a beach ball and moving in slow motion. When you are a goalie and in the zone like that, the opposing team gets frustrated.

In Game Four, Chicago scored early in the second period, ending my shutout streak at 174 minutes, 18 seconds, during which I had stopped 105 Chicago shots. We were tied 3–3 at the end of regulation, but if you look at the overtime, the Blackhawks knew they were finished. We could smell blood, and that’s when we found our stride. We had one scoring chance after another. There was nothing they could do to turn the tide.

Finally, Brett Hull made this wonderful play. A shoot-in sent the puck into their end. Ed Belfour went behind his net to play it, but it bounced over his stick. While Eddie was trying to get back to his crease, Brett took a shortcut, chasing the puck, and Eddie, trying to get back to his crease, bumped into Brett. Meanwhile, Craig Janney, who was such a quick-thinking player, recognized what was happening and slipped a quick wrist shot from the boards towards the net. Eddie, in a panic, dived and took a stab at it but missed. The puck dribbled in. Our guys leaped over the boards to celebrate, and Eddie went nuts —screaming at the refs, whaling his goal stick at the goal- posts. He gave it three full Paul Bunyan swings, hard enough to bend the iron, but he couldn’t make that stick break.

That was the game, and that was the series.

Eddie was pissed and complained to the ref. Brett yelled at him, “You’re an idiot, Eddie! I wasn’t doing anything. You tried to hit me!” The horn blew and Eddie beat up the crossbar and pushed the net over, something I would’ve done myself. On the way to the dressing room, he knocked over a big coffee urn and a water jug. I will always respect him as a fiery, tremendous competitor. Any time you come out on the winning end as a goalie, after facing a Hall of Fame goalie at the other end, you feel like you’ve done a good job.

The fans in St. Louis were going absolutely crazy. We were always happy to stick around and sign a few autographs and sticks, but we couldn’t get to our cars for three hours after the game. We could not get through the mob who were still waiting and cheering after that Chicago series.

I remember feeling the complete opposite of the way I felt getting that haircut once every two years when I was a kid. I felt proud. I felt great about myself. I felt good about being a good teammate, contributing to the win. And honestly, I can’t remember any moment, in all the time I played hockey, that I was a factor like that. When I played at Notre Dame and we won, it wasn’t because I dominated in any of the games or anything like that. For the first time in my life, I was a big factor.

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    Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

    Mitch Marner
    USA Today
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    TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

    Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

    Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

    Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

    Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

    Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

    Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

    Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

    “My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

    Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

    This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

    Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

    “We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

    Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

    “It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

    Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

    The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

    “We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

    The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

    “He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.