Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick Highlight NHL's Vezina Race

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMarch 5, 2012

Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick Highlight NHL's Vezina Race

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    The NHL's Vezina Trophy is awarded to the goalie "adjudged to be the best at this position," as voted by the league's general managers.

    It's one of the NHL's oldest awards, having been donated by the Montreal Canadiens in 1927 after the death of legendary goalie Georges Vezina of tuberculosis in 1926.

    Last year, Boston's Tim Thomas was the winner of the award for the second time in three years.

    Thomas is one of several players who deserve strong consideration this year, but fall just short of being a finalist.  Others include either of the Blues' duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, Mike Smith of Phoenix and Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings. 

    But three goalies stand above the rest as worthy finalists with about 20 games left on the league schedule.

Pekka Rinne

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    Rinne was the runner-up for the award last season.

    He leads the league in wins with 36, is third among starting goalies with a .927 save percentage and has a very respectable 2.30 goals against average.

    Rinne is a workhorse for the Predators and is presently second in the NHL in games started behind only Anaheim's Jonas Hiller.

    Jerred Smithson is a former teammate of Rinne's, and now recently played against him after being traded to the Florida Panthers. He knows what the Nashville goalie means to his team.

    "He's a world-class goaltender," Smithson told reporters after the Predators downed the Panthers in early March. "When he sees [pucks]...he's going to stop them. I've been shooting on him for so long and I don't know how to beat him."

Henrik Lundqvist

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    The New York Rangers have a comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference standings and the consistent excellence of goalie Henrik Lundqvist is one of the main reasons for the team's success.

    Lundqvist leads the league in shutouts (8) and save percentage (.938), is second in goals against average with an impressive 1.82 and fourth in wins with 31. 

    The Rangers are in the middle of the league in goals-scored per game, but with "King Henrik" in the nets, they have a chance in every game.

    Opposing coaches know what Lundqvist means to his team.

    "He’s a great goaltender. He plays deep in his net, but he’s sharp and very quick," said Bruins Coach Claude Julien said after the Rangers recent 4-3 win over the Bruins at Madison Square Garden. "You saw that we had an empty net, I thought we had a goal, and he stuck the glove out and made the big save...I've always said he’s a good goaltender, and just because he doesn’t play for you doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve these compliments."

    At this point, Lundqvist has to be considered the favorite to win this year's Vezina Trophy.

Jonathan Quick

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    The Los Angeles Kings are 29th in the NHL, with just over two goals per game.  The reason the Kings are still in the thick of the playoff hunt this season has been the stellar play of Jonathan Quick.

    Quick has little room for error, but keeps the Kings close night after night. He has a sub-2.00 goals against average and a .932 save percentage and is second in the league with seven shutouts.

    To show how little support Quick has gotten this season, in the first 26 games the Kings netminder has started and lost this season (including overtime and shootout losses), the Kings have scored just 29 goals.

    Kings coach Darryl Sutter summed it up best when he added, "He's probably the strongest guy we have." That may be an understatement to Kings fans.

Vezina Trophy

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    Whoever wins, they have a long way to go. Since the NHL changed the Vezina standards in 1981-82, Dominik Hasek has won the award the most times with six. Other multiple winners include Martin Brodeur (four), Patrick Roy (three) and Tim Thomas (two).