And then there were four—goalies that is.
You have to be good to make it to the Conference Finals as a starting goalie. Here are the playoff records to date for the final four goalies:
Advantage: Tie (Roloson & Thomas) Roloson and Thomas have identical records. Both went the distance and won a seven-game series in the first round before sweeping their second-round opponents.
Niemi is the only goalie who didn't get the prerequisite eight wins because his backup got the win in the Sharks' epic come-from-behind victory in Game 3 of the first round against the Los Angeles Kings.
None of these goalies are playoff rookies, although some do have more experience than others.
Roloson: 44 playoff games, 26-15
Thomas: 29 playoff games, 18-11
Niemi: 35 playoff games, 23-11
Luongo: 47 playoff games, 25-22
Advantage: Niemi He has the better winning record, and while Luongo and Roloson have more playoff experience, Niemi is the only one of the four goalies who can claim a Stanley Cup on his résumé.
Fittingly enough, the NHL's top goalies—in terms of save percentage—are still playing.
Roloson: 0.941 (first in the NHL) on 366 shots
Thomas: 0.937 (second in the NHL) on 354 shots
Niemi: 0.906 (12th in the NHL) on 349 shots
Luongo: 0.917 (sixth in the NHL) on 311 shots
Advantage: Roloson He edged out Thomas by a hair for first overall in save percentage in the NHL. He arguably had to face the more dangerous team in the second round, going up against Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals, while Thomas "only" had to deal with a Pronger-less Flyers team.
Perhaps more important than save percentage is goals against average, which shows what ultimately matters—how many goals did you let in?
Fans don't tend to care if your stats were sublime or subpar. They only care if you let in less goals than the other goalie.
Roloson: 2.01 GAA (first in NHL) one shutout.
Thomas: 2.03 GAA (second in NHL) zero shutouts
Niemi: 3.01 GAA (12th in NHL) zero shutouts
Luongo: 2.25 GAA (fifth in NHL) two shutouts
Advantage: Roloson Roloson again just barely edged Thomas out of the top spot. Again, Niemi is by far the worst of the four goalies statistically.
Roloson circa 2006, when he last go to play for a playoff team. He was the best goalie that year too.
As a Canucks' fan, I wish I could state without bias that Luongo is the best goalie in the playoffs right now.
But I can't.
The 41-year-old Roloson is hands down the best goalie in the 2011 NHL Playoffs.
This might be the year he gets a Stanley Cup ring after he was denied by Carolina in 2006. (If he weren't injured in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals that year, Edmonton would've won the Cup, Pronger would've been happy and wouldn't have demanded a trade from the Oiler, and a whole lot of things would have played out differently in the "city of champions," but that is an article for another time).
Thomas came in a close second, so the two best goalies are duking it out in the Eastern Conference Finals.
As a Canucks' fan, I can at least console myself that Luongo is significantly better than Niemi, at least statistically, heading into the Western Conference Finals.