The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us and excitement is definitely in the air.
Some teams battled until the last day of the NHL season to make the playoffs, while players like Alex Ovechin, Sidney Crosby, and Henrik Sedin scraped to win individual award such as the Art Ross (top overall scoring leader) and the Rocket Richard (top goal scorer) trophies.
The NHL brain trust did an excellent job this year keeping the fans interested.
As the 16 teams head into the playoff rounds, the success of the NHL to create parity around the league is evident. There is no surety that any one team will emerge victorious in this year's playoffs.
One of the key factors in determining which team will hoist the Stanley Cup is goaltending.
In previous cup playoffs a goaltender that somehow comes up flat can cost their team the Stanley Cup. It doesn't matter how potent the team is in every other category.
In the 1970s, the Boston Bruins, featuring a star studded lineup including Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, Johhny Bucyk, and others, were upset by the superb goaltending of Montreal Canadiens rookie Ken Dryden.
A few seasons later, the Philadelphia Flyers' Bernie Parent denied the Bruins again.
If the Bruins came out on top of those series, they would have gone down in the record books as a dynasty which they should have.
Goaltending was the difference.
In the 1980s, Billy Smith and the New York Islanders defiantly denied the Edmonton Oilers a Stanley Cup that they were sure their high-octane offense would provide them.
In the 1990s, the Oilers relied on Grant Fuhr to make key saves at critical points in playoff games. If he wasn’t successful, the Oilers would not have achieved their status as one of the NHL’s legendary squads.
The Detroit Red Wings were named the top NHL team of the last decade by the Sporting News, but Detroit fans know they could have won several other Stanley Cups if not for goaltending.
Here is my Power Ranking of the goaltenders expected to start in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
One thing is for certain: The team with the best goaltending will have their name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Marc Andre Fleury has been inconsistent this year, just like last year's surprise Stanley Cup winners.
The thing about the playoffs is anything can happen and if the Penguins play like they did last year, Fleury could be the key to what now seems like a surprise finish.
Brian Boucher has had some tough games in the Philadelphia crease, but has also made some sparkling saves down the stretch to inch his team closer to the playoffs.
Boucher will need to improve his consistency if Philadelphia is to advance.
Boucher showed his ability to prepare for an important game helping his team vanquish the New York Rangers on the last day of the regular season.
Most have forgot that the Avalanche were not even supposed to make the playoffs this year.
With a great mixture of youngsters and experienced players, the team surprised everyone.
Goaltending was one of the keys to Colorado's surge in the standings and Craig Anderson has been in the driver's seat.
Ottawa has been a lot quieter than the days when they had Ray Emery in goal. Leclaire and company have provided steady play game in and game out.
Many of Ottawa's games are close contests, meaning the goaltending must be solid for the Senators to advance.
Washington has received rave notice for its offensive prowess. With Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Green and Knuble it is easy to miss the play of the goaltenders.
Washington won often, set records for an expansion team and you still get the feeling they are not 100 percent on their game.
Theodore will play a critical role in whether Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals can achieve their goal.
Nashville has played well all season qualifying for the playoffs way before several other well known teams like the Bruins.
Nashville relies on team defense and solid goaltending to win games. It doesn't hurt to have Shea Weber on the blueline.
Nashville is a team hungry enough to make a impact and Rinne has what it takes to support the team's appetite.
The Montreal Canadiens can never be overlooked when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
Montreal gives up as many goals as they score, but they have shown ability to tighten up their defensive assignments which can be helpful in the playoffs.
Carey Price has on occasion displayed the skills necessary to carry the Canadiens. The question is carry them how far?
It has been a long time since a rookie has had such a impact between the pipes.
Ken Dryden surprised the Boston Bruins with spectacular saves and helped Montreal steal the Stanley Cup from them.
If Howard continues to defy the odds expect no less than for the Wings to advance to the next round.
The Sharks have been at the top of the Western Division for most of the 2010 season. That fact doesn't seem to bother many of San Jose's competitors given their history of playoff dysfunction.
This year it could be different with Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley proving the offense and Evgeni Nabokov between the pipes.
Nabokov has at times been brilliant during the regular season. This year could be different for the Sharks.
The Vancouver Canucks have been in the playoffs before, but never have their fans been so confident in the team.
Henrik Sedin has provided the playmaking that they have needed and Roberto Luongo gives them the goaltending to make life difficult for whomever they face.
Jonathan Quick has provided excitement for Kings fans for most of the season.
Unfortunately, LA has faltered in the last 10 games, losing close contests to teams getting ready for the playoffs.
Still, the Kings have a close-knit unit of players that could create mayhem for other teams in the playoff. Quick will have to be quicker, though.
After emerging as big-play goalie on the world stage in the Winter Olympics Ryan Miller has managed to keep himself sharp which means good thing for the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres seem to draw on Miller's strength and there is no reason to believe he will falter in the playoffs.
With Stan Bowman as the GM and father Scotty as an advisor it is not at all surprising that the Blackhawks are a favorite in this year's playoffs.
The Blackhawks are a formidable young squad with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and more.
Bowman knows from experience that goaltending is the key so it is no coincidence he has place his faith in Antti Niemi.
If Chicago makes it to the finals, goaltending will decide the outcome.
Ilya Bryzagalov has fooled his critics all year long. All you need to do is watch him play to realize that The Coyotes are for real.
Bryzagalov has at times been spectacular backstopping win after win when his team needed him.
If he continues his steady play in the playoffs, the Roadrunners will continue to surprise their opponents.
The Bruins fought hard to make the playoffs, and goaltenders Tuuka Rask and Tim Thomas both desrve some of the credit.
Rask has provided the Bruins team with two solid goaltenders. In the playoffs. a decision inevitably has to be made about who the starter will be, but if one falters, Boston will be in better shape than most teams.
With Martin Brodeur, the all-time NHL shutout leader on your team, anything can happen. The Devils have seen players come and go, but Martin Brodeur continues to provide a sparkling performance for his team.
With Ilya Kovalchuk adding some offense the New Jersey Devils could create some heat for their playoff opponents. Brodeur has earned the No. 1 spot and has it until someone proves he is better.