NHL Awards Tracker: Ranking the Leading Candidates for the Vezina Trophy
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No position in sports has more influence over the outcome of a game than a goaltender in professional hockey.
A quarterback in football probably comes close and a pitcher in baseball can mean just as much from time to time, but a goaltender's influence is substantial on an every-game basis.
The NHL honors the goaltender who is "ajudged" to be the best in the league with the Vezina Trophy. In many years, the Vezina Trophy winner will also key a long run by his team in the playoffs. However, playoff performance is not a factor in awarding the Vezina.
It's a regular-season award. Two years ago, Tim Thomas won the Vezina and then led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup. Last year, Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina and led the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals.
This year's potential Vezina Trophy candidates include several newcomers to consider and one superb regular contender.
Ray Emery, Chicago Blackhawks
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Ray Emery is technically the Chicago Blackhawks' backup goalie, but he has played as well or better than starting goalie Corey Crawford.
Emery is giving Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville something to think about as the playoffs approach. Emery has been consistently excellent for the dominating Blackhawks.
Emery has reeled off a 16-1-0 record with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He also has three shutouts.
Whenever the Blackhawks have gone through one of their few lulls, Emery has managed to always get them out of it. He is one of the most underrated performers at any position in the league.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask has more than lived up to expectations as the Bruins' top goalie this year.
The Bruins did not blink an eye when Tim Thomas decided he wanted to take the 2012-13 season off. They simply handed the reins to backup goalie Tuukka Rask and promoted Anton Khudobin to the No. 2 goalie.
While the goalie ascension was all set up, Rask has still had to play with the pressure of being the No. 1 goalie. He has reeled off a 17-8-4 record with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. He has also registered three shutouts.
Rask has managed to put stellar numbers on the board even though the Bruins have had some slippage in the last six weeks. The defense has given the puck away quite a bit more than they have in the past and the offense has slowed down considerably.
If Rask had not played so well, the Bruins would no longer be in contention for the Northeast Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks
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Cory Schneider has not had the easiest year. The Vancouver Canucks had planned to trade Roberto Luongo in the offseason to clear the way for Schneider and let him take over the starting goaltender role without any distractions.
Sullen and slow-moving general manager Mike Gillis was unable to make a deal and Luongo has been with the Canucks all season. Schneider got off to a slow start, but he has rebounded to play quite well in the Vancouver net.
Schneider has put together a 15-8-3 record with a 2.14 GAA, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts.
After a midseason dip, the Canucks are back atop the Northwest Division and they could be a major factor in the postseason once again. Schneider's steady play is a big reason why.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks
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Workhorse Antti Niemi has carried the San Jose Sharks on his shoulders this year. With just under two weeks left in the season, he has played in a remarkable 38 games.
Niemi may not play with a textbook style, but he manages to keep the puck out of his net by scrambling, flopping and doing whatever it takes to stop the puck from going in. Niemi has a 21-10-6 record with a 2.13 GAA, a .925 save percentage and four shutouts.
The Sharks have not been steady on the offensive end. If Niemi doesn't perform as well as he has all year, they would not likely be a playoff team.
Henrik Lundqivst, New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers have played far beneath expectations this season. They were Eastern Conference favorites at the start of the season, but their play has been disappointing.
The Rangers are in a dogfight to make the playoffs and they may have to hold off the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres if they are going to make it.
They probably will because they have one of the best goaltenders in the world on their team. Henrik Lundqvist has once again played superbly for the Rangers.
Lundqvist has a 19-14-3 record with a 2.06 GAA and a .928 save percentage. Lundqvist was a good goalie early in the season, but he has turned his game up a notch over the last two months and once again has the form that won him the Vezina a year ago.
It would be difficult not to pick Lundqvist if you needed a superb goalie performance to win one key game.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
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There's only one real reason the Columbus Blue Jackets are fighting to get in the playoffs this year after finishing as the worst team in the NHL last year.
They are getting sensational play in goal from Sergei Bobrovsky. There seemed to be little reason to think the Blue Jackets would be anything more than cannon fodder this year after trading their only superstar in Rick Nash to the New York Rangers last summer.
However, this little team from Ohio State country has banded together. And Bobrovsky is the leader of the band.
He has a 17-10-6 record, a 2.03 GAA and a .931 save percentage. He also has four shutouts. If the Blue Jackets are going to pull off their unlikely playoff run, "Bob" should win the Vezina Trophy.