Theodore just fine as Wild's backup plan

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2011 - 9:07 AM

Sure, Jose Theodore still wants to be a No. 1 goalie, but as the trade deadline hits today, he'd rather stay and help the Wild reach the playoffs.

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Jose Theodore wants to see things through with the Wild. “We’ve come together as a team, and … we really understand what we have to do to win,’’ he said.

Photo: Jeff Mcintosh, Associated Press

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When you've been a No. 1 goaltender your entire career -- heck, when you once were the MVP of the entire National Hockey League -- it's not easy accepting being a No. 2.

First, it's a punch to your ego. Second, it's hard to play sporadically when you're used to the rhythm of playing every night.

Make no mistake, the Wild's Jose Theodore still wants to and believes he can be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.

That's why it makes it more impressive that Theodore, the NHL's 2002 Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, does not want to get traded to another playoff contender in need of goaltending as Monday's 2 p.m. trade deadline strikes.

Even though Theodore knows his role as Niklas Backstrom's backup will not change as long as Backstrom is healthy and playing well, Theodore accepts that.

He wants to remain with the Wild, help this team make the playoffs and be an insurance policy in the playoffs.

"We've worked so hard to put ourselves in this position that I'm just happy to be a part of it," said Theodore, who is 11-8-2 in 21 starts with a 2.66 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. "We've come together as a team, and systemwise we really understand what we have to do to win. I feel confident with the group of guys we have here. It's fun to be a part of it.''

"That's why every time I have a chance to play, I want to make sure that I don't let anybody down. I want to show the coaching staff and my teammates that I can go in there in any situation and do the job,'' Theodore continued. "Me and Backs, we want to bring this team in the playoffs. I'm really supporting him the best I can and trying to push him to play the best he can. And he's doing the same for me. So I think we have a really good combination."

Theodore, 34, might be a wanted man Monday. But he's also wanted, and needed, by the Wild.

Backstrom's .928 save percentage ranks second in the NHL and his 2.26 GAA is fifth. Since the All-Star break, Backstrom's .948 save percentage is tied for first in the NHL and his 1.43 GAA ranks second.

But Backstrom also is less than two years removed from hip surgery and a month removed from a hip injury. During that stretch, Theodore proved valuable when he beat Phoenix, New Jersey, Boston and Pittsburgh in consecutive games.

The Wild's 1-2 goaltending punch is as good as it gets, so would the team really jeopardize such depth unless something was offered for Theodore that would be an absolute no-brainer to refuse?

Take Friday's 3-2 overtime victory at Anaheim. Theodore made 46 saves in a game that if the Wild had lost, it would have dropped from sixth to 10th in the Western Conference. Because every single point is that critical, Theodore will be needed down the stretch in this can't-even-breathe playoff race.

In coach Todd Richards' mind, a good No. 2 goalie is as important as a good backup quarterback in the NFL.

"You watch Tom Brady go down [in 2008] with that knee injury the first game of the season and [the Patriots] didn't make the playoffs," Richards said. "I think it's comparable in our game, too. If you don't have a solid No. 2 that you're confident in and your No. 1 is gone, it's tough to win games."

There's no better example of that than Anaheim. Three weeks ago, the Ducks' biggest strength this season had been their goaltending. Then Jonas Hiller came down with a mysterious case of vertigo, backup Curtis McElhinney couldn't do the job and the Ducks had to desperately sign Ray Emery and trade for Dan Ellis.

"I thought the other day how fortunate we are to have gotten Theodore, that he was out there [when Josh Harding tore knee ligaments in the preseason]," Richards said. "Look at the big games he has won for us."

The fact he still was available to sign with the Wild on Oct. 1 still boggles Theodore's mind, too, after a 30-7-7 season with Washington. He was jobless after Tampa Bay signed Ellis, Atlanta signed Chris Mason, San Jose signed Antero Niittymaki and Chicago signed Marty Turco -- moves, some of which, that can be second-guessed after watching Theodore's season with the Wild.

"I'm going to let the play dictate that," Theodore said. "Technically, there's a lot of people out there that should know the game and if they would have done their homework last year, I probably would not have been free at the end. I would have signed earlier.

"It's not being cocky. I just think some people didn't do their homework last year, didn't look at my games. And hopefully, this year, I was able to show everybody that I can play many games and be consistent. I feel really good where my game is right now."

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