By Lindsay Kramer
The pressure of the playoffs has something of a purifying effect on Chicago Wolves goalie Michael Garnett, who played in the ECHL each of his first two seasons.
There are no personal issues to cloud your play and stats don’t matter. Well, besides the obvious aim of picking up the “W.”
“In playoffs, for me personally, when I can go into a game and think, it doesn’t matter what happens as long as we win, it simplifies your thinking,” said Garnett, who was 16-15-3 with a goals-against average of 3.41 and a save percentage of .895 in 38 regular season games and 1-2 in three Kelly Cup Playoff games with Greenville as a rookie in 2002-03. “You don’t let anything else get in the way. Maybe in the regular season, I’m thinking; ‘Geez, I want to get my save percentage here, or my goals-against average here.’ For me, it (the postseason) is a good way to refocus on the task at hand.”
Sometimes, though, you can have it both ways, with great stats going hand-in-hand with even greater glory.
Although the sample size remains relatively small, Garnett, 24, is emerging as one of the best money goalies in the AHL. Coming into this year’s postseason, he carried a 2-0 playoff record for the Wolves.
He started all four games of the West Division semifinal against Milwaukee, stopping 103 of the 110 shots he faced in those contests to post a 1.67 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage for the series.
He then blanked Iowa in Game 1 of the second round before losing to the Stars in Game 2, to snap his undefeated playoff streak. After bouncing back to beat Iowa in Game 3 on May 6, he had an overall AHL career playoff record of 8-1, a goals-against of 1.97, and a save percentage of .932.
“I guess what I’m trying to establish is a good team usually has a goalie step up in the playoffs when they win,” said Garnett, who was selected to the ECHL All-Star Game while going 21-10-2 with four shutouts, a save percentage of .926 and ranked third in the league with a goals-against average of 2.14 in 33 regular season games with Gwinnett. “I want to be a guy who can backstop a team in the playoffs. If that’s the identity I can build, I’d be happy with that.”