Tim Thomas and 10 Goalies Who Hold Their Team's Fate
It isn't rocket science, and it isn't a secret. In order to win in the NHL, you need to have excellent goaltending.
Especially in the playoffs, the goaltender is often the player best positioned to put together a playoff run.
Last season, Tim Thomas' 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage in the playoffs led the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship. Two years ago, Jaroslav Halak's stellar play was the main reason that the Montreal Canadiens were able to upset the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Depending on the make-up of the team, the goalie's role is different. He might have to just be solid in order to give his team a chance to win, or he might have to be the difference-maker more often than not for his team to have success.
Here are 10 goalies whose play will determine their team's success in 2011-12.
10. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames
If the Flames are going to avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season, then Kiprusoff's play will be the reason why.
Since the lockout, Kiprusoff has played at least 70 games in every season. Although the Flames have missed the playoffs the last two years, Kiprusoff hasn't had a losing season in Calgary. Last season, the Flames' netminder won 37 games, and finished third in the NHL in games played.
While his numbers have been good, he hasn't regained his Vezina-winning form from the 2005-06 season.
Once again, "Kipper," who turns 35 in late October, will likely play over 70 games for the seventh straight season, and determine how far the Flames go in 2011-12.
9. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Last season, two things happened for the first time in over a decade: Martin Brodeur had a losing season, and the New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs.
Brodeur, the winningest goalie in NHL history, has been no stranger to carrying the load for the Devils. Brodeur has played over 70 games in a season 12 times during his career, and up until last season, his workload didn't have an impact on his performance.
In the defensive system that the Devils play, Brodeur will have to be almost perfect on most nights in order for the Devils to win.
At age 39, and with one more year left on his contract, Brodeur will try to repeat what he has done his whole career one more time.
8. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
Even though Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed half of last season due to a concussion and knee injuries, respectively, the Penguins recorded the most points in any season since Crosby and Malkin came to Pittsburgh. The reason was Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury recorded 36 wins in 65 games last year, while establishing a career best 2.32 goals-against average. More importantly, he served as the backbone for the Penguins while they were finding a "new" identity during the second half of the season.
With Crosby's timetable for a return uncertain, Fleury will once again be relied on to lead the Penguins to the postseason in 2011-12.
7. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
In 2010-11, Roberto Luongo led the Canucks to within a single win of the Stanley Cup. During the season, Luongo established career highs with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.
On a team with All-Stars such as Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Luongo carried the team through stretches last year. And as was evidenced during the Cancuks' playoff run (both good and bad), Luongo's play corresponded to the Canucks' success.
If Vancouver hopes to repeat as Western Conference champions and capture their first Stanley Cup, it will be because Luongo can be more consistent than he was during last year's Stanley Cup Finals.
6. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Entering last season, Carey Price was arguably the Montreal Canadiens' biggest question mark.
Price ended 2010-11 as the team's MVP, leading the Canadiens into the playoffs, where they lost a seven-game series against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
On a team that finished in the bottom third in goals per game, Price tied for first in the NHL in wins with 38, and finished in the league's top 10 in goals-against average and save percentage.
At only age 24, Price looks to carry the Canadiens to another playoff berth in 2011-12. In the hockey hotbed that is Montreal, Price could join the prestigious list of young Canadiens goaltenders that single-handedly brought the Cup to Montreal.
5. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Since the lockout, the New York Rangers' success has more often than not been dependent on Henrik Lundqvist's play.
The first goalie to start his career with 30 or more wins in each of his first six seasons, Lundqvist has carried the Rangers to the playoffs in five of the six seasons after the lockout.
This offseason, the Rangers signed Brad Richards in an attempt to improve an offense that has been in the bottom half of the league during Lundqvist's tenure in New York. The Rangers hope that less pressure on Lundqvist in the regular season could lead to a long playoff run in the spring.
However, if the Rangers are going to make a long playoff run this spring, they will need their world-class goaltender to be world class.
4. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
After winning the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10, Ryan Miller failed to regain that form in 2010-11. Miller's struggles early on reflected the Sabres' struggles; then Miller's resurgence led the Sabres to a playoff berth.
With another summer of changes in Buffalo, and with young players now looking to step up, Miller will once again be looked on to be the backbone. With the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff on the blue line, there is no reason why Miller can't return to his Vezina-type form this year.
Just like the way it has been in recent years, Miller's performance will determine where Buffalo goes in 2011-12.
3. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
Although the Carolina Hurricanes missed the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, Cam Ward was the reason why Carolina was in contention throughout the year.
The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner led the NHL and set a career high with 74 games played last year, as the Hurricanes needed every point down the stretch.
Although his workload increased, Ward's numbers hardly suffered. While facing the most shots of any goalie during the regular season, Ward finished seventh in the NHL with a .923 save percentage.
Although Eric Staal is the captain and face of the franchise, Ward is arguably just as important, if not more.
Ward's durability and effectiveness will be the key for the Hurricanes to get over the hump and make the playoffs in 2011-12.
2. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
In 2010-11, Tim Thomas proved that his 2008-09 Vezina-winning season wasn't a fluke.
The Bruins goaltender went from the Bruins backup at the start of the year, to recording a shutout in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Along the way, Thomas set the NHL record for save percentage in a single season, led the league in goals-against average, won his second Vezina trophy in three years, and captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
On a team that was fifth in the NHL in goals per game, Thomas doesn't have to be the difference every night, yet he rarely has a subpar game.
As the Bruins look to repeat as champions in 2011-12, Thomas' play will be the difference throughout the season.
1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
After two decent years in the NHL, Pekka Rinne's third year elevated him into the upper echelon of NHL goalies.
Rinne established career highs with a 2.12 goals against average (third in the NHL) and a .930 save percentage (second in the NHL).
Rinne's numbers are even more impressive because the Predators finished last season in the bottom third of the league in scoring. On most nights, Rinne was the difference for the Predators, and led them to a 99-point season and a first-round upset of the Anaheim Ducks.
In order for Nashville to take the next step and become a top contender in the Western Conference, the Predators will need Rinne to be as good, if not better, than he was last year.
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