As I've watched the 2011 Stanley Cup playoff games, the players that have always stood out to me are the goalies.
It's partially because they're the only ones who actually have all their teeth (a novelty in this sport) or get to play with a glorified catcher's mitt and a stick that is comparable to (and often used as) a weapon you might find in Beowulf.
Mainly, my obsession with the position stems from the fact that there is no gray area enshrouding how a goalie's performance is assessed. If you're a right winger who fires a shot only to have it saved, nobody gets on your case. If you're the goalie and that same shot goes past you, then it's all your fault.
With this in mind, why not throw the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals' goalies under the proverbial microscope?
Tim "Timmy" Thomas of Boston has had a rather interesting and, up until really the past couple of years, uneventful career. After getting drafted 217th in the 1994 entry draft, Thomas was bounced around a host of minor league and European teams before finally settling down with Boston at age 28.
Three years later he earned the starting role, which he delivered in, but wasn't recognized for until 2009 when he won the Vezina (tantamount to a Cy Young for NHL goalies).
Thomas is hands down one of the most athletic and aware goaltenders in the league, as evidenced by this fantastic save: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZmEJ3mLPs0.
Most goalies would have reacted a split second later than Thomas did, which would have subsequently cost their team a goal. Of course, that's why Thomas has a 2.29 GAA when the midpoint for just the teams that made the playoffs is around 2.6.
The only potential weakness for Thomas is a mental one: The Bruins haven't won a Stanley Cup since before Thomas, who is 37, was born. The other weakness is more of a statistical one that really stems to the team as a whole: The playoff road, while one well travelled by the Bruins, has always had some sort of an impasse right around the quarterfinals.
Whether comparing this save (seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvyqkYmJWHg) with Thomas' above, or juxtaposing each goalie's history (Luongo is a 2011 Vezina finalist who, like Thomas, had a 2.29 GAA entering the playoffs), it's easy to see that both players have a lot in common.
Nonetheless, all comparisons aside, Luongo is comparably bigger and faster than Thomas. At 5'11" and 200 pounds, Thomas is by no means "little." However, Luongo is a solid 6'3" and damned close to 220 pounds.
A naturally big frame is a distinct advantage for a net minder, especially when one considers that the NHL passed a rule back in 2005 cracking down on the size of the gear a goalie could wear.
A lot of smaller goalies had been wearing bigger pads to try and level the playing field (picture Danny DeVito in a fat suit, and you get the idea); however, with the advent of rules controlling this, naturally larger goalies have the advantage now more than ever.
Luongo, who is built more like a small linebacker than a hockey goalie, doesn't need additional gear to assist in cutting off shooting angles. His wingspan allows him to be on one side of the net while retaining the ability to still cover the other in case a puck is misdirected or lost in traffic.
Some might say that he and Thomas probably take up the same amount of space, given that their height-to-weight ratio is similar. With that said, don't underestimate what an extra four inches of height can do for a goalie who is trying to keep a puck from breaching a six- by four-foot plane.
Both of these teams have high octane offenses that can move the puck up the ice and get good shots on goal. That means that the goaltenders are going to be tested.
Anyone reading this article is probably wondering about the 8-1 drubbing Boston put on Vancouver this past Monday; but, given the final score of the game, I'm willing to write it off as an anomaly.
My prediction? The series goes to Game 6 and the Canucks take home Lord Stanley's Mug.
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