During the first two games of the series against the Binghamton Senators, Jeff Zatkoff stopped 69 of 73 shots to guide the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to a pair of wins.
For Thursday’s Game 3, however, Zatkoff was a late scratch.
In his place stood Brad Thiessen and his 25 games of playoff experience.
Call it a luxury, having a veteran backup to turn to in case number one can’t go.
“For sure. When (head coach John) Hynes gives the tap to the other guy, I’m sure he feels like it’s a luxury as well,” said center Trevor Smith.
Even if that starting nod comes a bit late.
Zatkoff practiced in full on Wednesday, but was a no-show on Thursday when the team skated onto the ice for warm-ups. Hynes said the team was monitoring Zatkoff’s condition late Wednesday night, and he described it as “pre-existing” and “nothing serious.”
Anyhow, it was enough to give the start to Thiessen - a decision that wasn’t made until five hours before the start of Thursday’s Game 3.
Before then, Thiessen spent the last couple of weeks wondering if he had played his last game as a Penguin.
“It crossed my mind a little bit. Maybe the last game of the season,” Thiessen said. “Thankfully it wasn’t.”
Despite the short notice, Thiessen turned in a stellar performance on Thursday, stopping 19 0f 21 shots to guide the Penguins to a 3-2 win. Not bad for a player who only had a few hours to prepare for big playoff game.
“I had a bit of an inkling (Wednesday night) there might be a chance. Coach called me in the afternoon (on Thursday) to tell me it was my game,” Thiessen said.
Although it was Thiessen’s 26 AHL postseason game, he admits to feeling a few butterflies before the start.
It’s the playoffs, after all.
But his teammates had no uneasy feelings about playing Game 3 with Thiessen, and not Zatkoff, in net.
“He’s a veteran guy and he’s taken this team far in the playoffs before,” said Riley Holzapfel. “We’re not really too worried about it when you have a guy like Brad than can come in and steal you games.”
And that’s exactly what Thiessen did. After allowing an early goal to Binghamton in the first period, he kept them at bay for the rest of the night while his teammates got their offense in order and tallied three goals in the third period for the win.
About the only thing that Thiessen’s teammates felt was a bit odd was how he could come in on short notice and play so well.
“Goalies are weird,” said Zach Sill. “They get ready and you just let them do their thing. We had full faith in Brad that he was going to come out and do the job.”
Hynes said Zatkoff will rejoin the team for Sunday’s practice and he described his condition as day-to-day. While the Penguins next opponent has yet to be determined, as has the start of the second round, Thiessen assured he will be ready if he gets the nod for another start.
Even if it comes at the last minute.
“You’d like to know ahead of time, but you try to prepare the same way whether you’re playing or not,” he said. “As a player you try to elevate your game, and I think I can do that in the playoffs and be a difference-maker. Zatkoff’s been doing a great job, and if I’m called upon again I’ll try to bring the same thing.”