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HELENE ELLIOTT

Ducks' goaltender Jonas Hiller shows he belongs in big game

He holds his own in 59-save, triple-overtime victory, which doesn't surprise goaltending guru Francois Allaire.

May 05, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller wasn't sure how his body and mind would stand up to more than 100 minutes of tense, Tomas-Holmstrom-in-your-face playoff hockey Sunday at Detroit.

Two people who know him well had no qualms at all.

"There was not even an ounce of doubt in my mind," said Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who lost his starting job to Hiller late this season.

"I know Jonas is ready. Was ready. He's put in the work that he needed to do. His technical game is as strong as anybody in the league. His mental game is super-solid."

Hiller's other big booster was Francois Allaire, the goaltending guru who coached Giguere before the Ducks existed and refined a raw Swiss kid into a confident puck-stopping machine.

"It's good for a guy in his first playoff run to get that kind of experience going to the third overtime," Allaire said Monday. "He didn't know his limit. Now he just pushed his limit a little bit further."

Hiller couldn't have made that leap without Allaire, who made a name for himself by developing a fiery kid named Patrick Roy into a Hall of Famer and put his stamp on more than 40 NHL goalies.

Allaire didn't say much to Hiller during the 59-save effort that propelled the Ducks to a 4-3, triple-overtime victory over the Red Wings and sent the series to the Honda Center tonight tied at 1-1. Allaire didn't say anything at all after the first period. He didn't have to.

He knew that the physical and mental strength Hiller had gained sweaty hour by sweaty hour would be his greatest assets. And they were.

Hiller, like most of the Ducks' regulars, skipped Monday's optional practice at the Honda Center. He said he felt "pretty good," and had kept his weight around its normal 193-pound level.

Though he didn't skate Monday, he stayed with his usual routine by joining Allaire to review films of Sunday's game.

"Most of the scenes, they're still in your head. You know what happened," Hiller said. "Sometimes it's interesting to compare what's in your mind, the picture you saved, and the picture they saved on tape."

It was worth saving and savoring.

"I let him handle his own game. I think he handled it pretty good," said Allaire, finishing his 13th season as the Ducks' goaltending consultant after spending 12 years with the Montreal Canadiens.

"I didn't see any fluctuation in his game technically. It was always solid, at the right place."

That wasn't always the case.

When a 17-year-old Hiller showed up at Allaire's Swiss goaltending camp -- Allaire also runs a pro camp in Montreal and another camp in Sweden -- he stood out only because he was near his current 6-foot-2 height and a left-hander.

Allaire remembered "a guy with a little idea" of how to play goal but had the eagerness to return and learn. "It took a couple of years before I really started to pay more attention," Allaire said.

He later urged the Ducks to lock up Hiller, who was excelling in the Swiss League, and they signed him in 2007. Last season, Hiller beat out Ilya Bryzgalov for the backup job, and he became the starter when Giguere struggled this season.

Allaire popularized the butterfly style, in which goalies stay square to the puck as they drop to the ice, keeping their knees together and pointing their leg pads in opposite directions. It's not easy to perfect and Allaire is a demanding instructor.

"The thing with Frankie is if you're willing to work you'll get better. There's no doubt about it," Giguere said. "His system is simple to do, but it demands high energy.

"It's all about having strong legs and being in the right position, and if a goalie is willing to do it, the odds are going to improve on your side all the time."

Hiller, a fine athlete, has paid close attention to Allaire's suggestions.

"If we cut the technical mistakes down in the game and keep them under five a game, normally the chances are on your side. The puck will hit you a lot more," Giguere said. "We see it right now with Jonas.

"A lot of the pucks are hitting him right in the middle of the chest because he's in the right position and he makes everything look simple. And believe me it's not easy. Not many goalies can do that."

Giguere has done it under playoff pressure. He's 12-1 in overtime playoff games, a .923 winning percentage that's the highest of any goalie with 10 or more decisions.

He was voted the most valuable player in the 2003 playoffs despite a Game 7 loss to New Jersey in the Stanley Cup Finals, and he led the Ducks to the Cup in 2007.

"When I see Jiggy having those runs in playoffs and now Hiller, it means those guys are really special and they really work on their game every day," said Allaire, who habitually signs one-year contracts and has been approached by other teams but said he found nothing better than his situation here.

"It's a commitment to doing that every day in the practice to make sure that when the playoff comes you are ready to face the music."

Thanks to Allaire, Hiller hasn't hit a sour note yet.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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Ducks vs. Detroit

Game 3, Tonight, 7:30

Honda Center, Prime Ticket

Series is tied, 1-1

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