Like each NHL playoff team, the Nashville Predators need Pekka Rinne to stand tall if they wish to realize championship aspirations.
No Stanley Cup victor ever reached hockey's pinnacle without a steadfast goaltender between the pipes, the kind that acts as an impregnable barrier even in times of great distress, weak defense or a long scoring drought.
That is to say, great goaltending can cover a multitude of sins and propel a hockey team to a long and profitable postseason run.
Goaltending, the last line of defense, is so much more than that—it can make the spectacular save seem routine, reverse a team's fortunes and even provide hope in the face of the fiercest opponent.
The most recent example came during Jaroslav Halak's incredible 2010 playoff performance, posting a 2.55 goals against average and .923 save percentage during the Canadiens' improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals as an eight seed—the last team invited to the dance.
Both Washington and Pittsburgh, the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds respectively that season, and two high octane offenses, were thwarted by Halak before the Canadiens finally fell victim to the Philadelphia Flyers—just one step short of a Stanley Cup berth. Thus proving one important truth about the NHL playoffs—a great goaltender can rise up and steal a series from any opponent.
Here is a list of this year's mostly likely candidates to steal a series win for their team.
"King" Henrik Lundqvist is a favorite amongst Ranger fans and the brightest light on Broadway on game night.
First Round Opponent: Ottawa Senators
2011 Regular Season Statistics: 39 wins, .930 sv%, 1.97 GAA, 8 SO
At this stage of his career, Henrik Lundqvist is not only in his prime, but also a bona fide top-three goaltender league wide. And his 2010-11 season was no different.
Lundqvist will headline the short list of candidates for the Vezina Trophy, but his focus for now is on bringing a Stanley Cup back to the Big Apple.
If anyone is capable of carrying his team, it's Lundqvist. And he might have to this postseason.
The Rangers scored 2.71 goals-per-game during the regular season, while Ottawa was in the top-five in that category at 2.96 this year.
Jason Spezza, Milan MIchalek and Erik Karlsson are a handful for any defense, but Lundqvist should be up to the task of shutting down Ottawa's potent offense.
Hank is definitely accustomed to the pressure associated with single-handedly winning games for the Rangers, so Blueshirt fans can rest easier knowing the King is between the pipes.
Jonathan Quick of the LA Kings led the entire NHL in shutouts (10) during the regular season.
First Round Opponent: Vancouver Canucks
2011 Regular Season Statistics: 35 wins, .929 sv%, 1.95 GAA, 10 SO
Would the Los Angeles Kings be in the playoffs, let alone have competed for the Pacific Division crown, without goaltender Jonathan Quick in net this year?
Simply stated, no.
Quick pitched 10 shutouts—leading the league in that category—giving the Kings a chance to win games when, quite frankly, they didn't deserve the opportunity.
That's because the Kings offense scored just 2.29 goals per game this season—only the Minnesota Wild offense was worse. Despite adding Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to a forward group that already included Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jason Williams, the Kings could not find the net consistently.
Add to that the strength of the Vancouver Canucks (although Daniel Sedin is out indefinitely with concussion like symptoms) and Jonathan Quick will have to be the Kings' most valuable player if they are going to make a legitimate cup run.
Jaroslav Halak is looking to channel his stellar performance from the 2010 playoffs when he backstopped the Montreal Canadiens.
First Round Opponent: San Jose Sharks
2011 Regular Season Statistics: 26 wins, .926 sv%, 1.97 GAA, 6 SO
He's done it before and he can do it again.
The previously mentioned Jaroslav Halak stole the show during the 2009-10 playoffs, proving he has the capability to stand on his head at precisely the time his team needs.
Like the Kings, St. Louis struggled offensively this season, ranking 21st in goals in the regular season. While posting big offensive numbers was not the Blues' recipe for success, solid defense and exceptional goaltending were the key to a Central Division title.
Halak split time with Brian Elliott this season, and the two combined for the lowest goals against average of all NHL goalie tandems.
But, it will be a different story in the postseason, as coaches tend not to share time amongst two netminders. Expect Halak to start game one against the Sharks and the Blues to ride his hot hand throughout.
San Jose may have slipped into the postseason following a lackluster regular season, but they have the pieces up front to challenge even the strongest defense.
Look for Halak to be tested and rise to the challenge.
No NHL goaltender was hotter than the Coyotes Mike Smith down the final stretch of the regular season.
First Round Opponent: Chicago Blackhawks
2011 Regular Season Statistics: 38 wins, .930 sv%, 2.21 GAA, 8 SO
Phoenix clinching the Pacific Division title had everything to do with the play of Mike Smith during the last five games of the season, when his team needed him most.
Talk about stealing games or series, Smith posted three shutouts and two, one-goal games in the Coyotes' final handful of games—earning Phoenix all 10 points in those contests and enough to edge out Los Angeles and San Jose for the division.
Now comes a dynamic offensive in Chicago for the first round.
But, if the regular season is a true litmus test of a goalie's muster, then Mike Smith will be up to the task.
Pekka Rinne's 43 wins in the regular season led all NHL goalies.
First Round Opponent: Detroit Red Wings
2011 Regular Season Statistics: 43 wins, .923 sv%, 2.39 GAA, 5 SO
There's simply no other goaltender in the NHL that has meant more to his team over the past few seasons than Pekka Rinne has for the Nashville Predators.
Rinne led the league in wins (43) this year, and over the past few seasons, has been the key reason why the Predators are a perennial playoff team.
Although Nashville's offense is the best it's been in years—especially with the additions of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn—it has the propensity to go into hiding at times.
If that's the case, Rinne will stand tall to the task (quite literally, since he's 6'5") and lead the Preds as he's known to do.
Now it's your turn.
Which goalie do you think is most capable of changing his team's fortunes in an upcoming playoff series?
Is it one of the five mentioned?
Or, maybe it's the veteran Martin Brodeur, No. 1 overall draft pick Marc Andre Fleury or a dark horse candidate, a la Antti Niemi?
Take a second, and share your opinion by leaving a comment below!