It's playoff time, which means it is time to cue the cliches like "you need goaltending to win" and "best goaltender wins" and "he needs to come up with some timely saves" and so on. The ultimate honour, of course, is to be called "clutch" and to be given credit for singlehandedly winning a series or even a Cup for their team.
But does that ever actually happen? Most hockey fans will point to Patrick Roy, in 1986 and 1993 as an example of a goalie that won it all by himself. Unfortunately, this view is quite wrong. Patrick Roy was another goalie that showed that the goalies get too much credit for the play of their teams. He was the beneficiary of some powerhouse Montreal teams, and in his entire career he never played on a weak team with the exception of 1994-95. That doesn't mean he was not a great goalie, just that he never singlehandedly won anything despite what his fans repeatedly claim.
The Canadiens were consistently outstanding for nearly Roy's entire career in Montreal. Take a look at their year-by-year goal differentials: +47, +50, +36, +60, +97, +54, +24, +60, +46, +35. In the decade from 1984-85 to 1993-94, Montreal outscored their opponents by 509 goals over 808 games. That was the second best mark in the league behind only Calgary. Here are the top 5 teams in the league over that time period ('84-85 to '93-94, W-L-T-Pts-Goal Diff):
1. Calgary: 433-274-101, 967 pts, +590
2. Montreal, 430-274-104, 964 pts, +509
3. Boston, 412-294-102, 926 pts, +334
4. Washington, 413-312-83, 909 pts, +327
5. Edmonton, 399-314-95, 893 pts, +292
Calgary and Montreal were the class of the league. So is it surprising that Montreal won 2 Cups? Not really. After a decade of being a top-5 team they should be expected to win a Cup or two.
Now the fact that the Canadiens had Roy certainly has some bearing on that impressive record. But goalies played less back then, and about 40% of Montreal's games had someone other than St. Patrick in the net. In those games, which featured mostly weak goalies like the notorious Andre "Red Light" Racicot, Montreal went 170-128-45. This was not up to their usual standards to be sure, but is still roughly equivalent to Washington's record in the table above, showing that Montreal was a top team even without Roy.
When you look a little deeper at the 1986 and 1993 squads, it becomes clear that they were both very impressive teams that underachieved during the regular season but showed their strengths in the postseason. The 1986 Habs had the third best goal differential in the league, and appear to simply have been a victim of bad luck in close games as well as the tough Adams Division, where every team was .500 or better. Montreal went 15-15-2 against their divisional opponents, and 25-18-5 against everyone else. They may not have been overloaded with goalscorers beyond Mats Naslund and Bobby Smith, but they had a lot of excellent two-way forwards like Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey, and a strong blueline led by Larry Robinson and Chris Chelios.
It was a similar story in 1993. In fact as late as March 13, 1993, the Montreal Canadiens were actually in first place in the entire NHL. Then they hit a late season swoon, and were edged out by both Boston and Quebec for the division title. The 1993 version was a similar mold - a few gifted scorers (Damphousse, Bellows, Lebeau), mixed with a large group of strong two-way forwards like Muller and Keane and a solid group of defencemen.
The two teams were both lucky enough to avoid the top teams come playoff time, a significant factor in their success. In the two runs combined, Montreal never played a single team with more regular season wins than them, and they were probably the best team in all 8 matchups.
Another overhyped achievement is Roy's overtime record in the '93 run. People will often refer to the 10 straight OT wins right up alongside Roy's 4 Cups and 3 Conn Smythes as proof of his greatest-of-all-time status. In those 10 games combined, Roy played a total of 96 minutes of shutout hockey in OT. A valuable contribution, and a noteworthy one to be sure, but not such a singularly impressive accomplishment that it should automatically crown him as the greatest ever. There are a number of goalies that have strung together 2 or more shutouts in a row at key times in the playoffs, some of them even doing it against better opponents, yet without even a small fraction of the hype.
Patrick Roy had very good save percentage numbers, a substantially better winning record than his backup goalies, and some excellent playoff performances. However, he was definitely advantaged by the teams he played on, which were nearly always dominant, even in Montreal, and even in 1986 and 1993. Therefore, the label he often receives of having carried a weak team to victory is undeserved. In the final reckoning, given his opportunities and talented teammates, Roy probably won about what he should have.