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Round 2
Round 3
Stanley Cup Final

Backstrom, Mason, Thomas vie for Vezina

Monday, 04.27.2009 / 12:00 PM / 2011 NHL Awards

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

Steve Mason, the brilliant young goalie of the Columbus Blue Jackets, could become only the fifth NHL player to win the Vezina and Calder trophies in the same year.

But he'll have to beat out the Minnesota Wild's Niklas Backstrom, and Tim Thomas, whose league-leading goals-against average was a driving force for the Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins this season.

Mason could become only the fifth goalie to win the Calder and Vezina trophies in the same year, joining Ed Belfour, Tom Barrasso, Tony Esposito and Frankie Brimsek.

"I haven't had a whole lot of time to think about it," Mason said of being a Vezina finalist. "When you look back at the players who have done it, just to be nominated for one of these awards is a special honor. I'm just thinking about all the people who helped me along the way, my family, the players this season, the coaching staff and Blue Jackets' management. Without that support, none of this would have been possible.

"I've never been to Las Vegas and I'm excited to go and see what it's all about," Mason said. "I'll be going with my family and my girlfriend and hoping we come away winners, not losers."

The three Vezina Trophy finalists finished 1-2-3 in lowest goals-against average. Thomas allowed a mere 2.10 goals per game, while Mason was next at 2.29 and Backstrom third at 2.33. The goalies will be on hand for the 2009 NHL Awards, which will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on June 18 on VERSUS in the United States and CBC in Canada.

Tickets to the 2009 NHL Awards are on sale at ticketmaster.com/nhlawards and at the Pearl Concert Theater Box Office.

Ed Belfour, breaking in with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1991, was the last rookie goalie to win the Vezina in the same year he won the Calder Trophy, which rewards the NHL rookie of the year. Buffalo Sabres goalie Tom Barrasso swept the awards in 1984.

Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito won both awards in 1970 and Frankie Brimsek, "Mr. Zero," won both for the Bruins in 1939.

The Vezina Trophy has been voted on by the NHL's general managers since 1981. Prior to that, it was awarded to the goalie(s) of the team that allowed the fewest goals in a season. The Montreal Canadiens donated the trophy in 1926, the year their former goaltender, Georges Vezina, died of tuberculosis, little more than a year after he collapsed during a game. Vezina had been the Canadiens only goalie from 1910-25 in both the NHL and its predecessor, the National Hockey Association. He won two Stanley Cups and allowed the fewest goals seven times.

Ironically, Vezina's successor, George Hainsworth won the Vezina in its first three seasons. Montreal's Bill Durnan and Philadelphia's Ron Hextall won the Vezina as rookies, but not the Calder.

Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante has won the most Vezina Trophies, seven, while Durnan and Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominic Hasek won six.

Here is a closer look at the 2009 finalists.

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild -- Many are likely to see this contest as between Thomas and Mason, thinking that 2006 Vezina winner Miikka Kiprusoff, who led the NHL this season in games played and wins, or New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist or 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward could have been the third candidate.

But Backstrom's candidacy deserves serious consideration. He went 37-24-8 for a team that finished out of the playoffs while his backup went 3-9-1. He gained 58 percent of the team's available points in games he played while the Wild earned 54 percent overall.

Simply put, Backstrom was the best player on his team.

"Backstrom is the reason Minnesota won as much as they did this season," Mason said. "He really established himself in this league. I'm excited to see who wins it so good luck to those guys, they earned the recognition."

Backstrom, 31 and in only his third NHL season, saw the second-highest shot total and was second in saves; was third with 71 games played, a 2.33 GAA and eight shutouts; fourth with a .923 save percentage and 4,088 minutes played; fifth with 37 wins; and sixth with eight overtime ties.

Backstrom did all this while playing with pain. He had hip surgery in late April and will need four months to recuperate.

Backstrom, who went undrafted, came to the NHL with fine credentials. He led Karpat to consecutive Finnish league championships in 2004 and 2005 and was named playoff MVP in both years. As a rookie in 2006-07, Backstrom led the NHL with a 1.97 save percentage and a .929 save percentage. As a result, he shared the 2007 William M. Jennings Trophy with Manny Fernandez.

Suitably impressed, the Wild signed Backstrom to a four-year deal in March.

Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets -- The Detroit Red Wings were in steep decline, they hadn't finished better than fourth in six-straight seasons, when Roger Crozier lifted them to a first-place finish in the 1964-65 regular season.

Fast forward to Mason, just 20, who led the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in their eight-year history.

Seventy years ago, Brimsek debuted with a loss, then posted three-straight shutouts, en route to 10 for the season, and added a first-place regular-season finish and the Stanley Cup, the only one of the four Vezina-Calder winners to do that. Esposito posted 15 shutouts as a rookie, second only to Hainsworth's 22 in 44 games in 1928-29.

Make no mistake, Mason's accomplishments this season rival those historic seasons. He led the NHL with 10 shutouts, finished second with a 2.29 GAA, tied for 11th with a .916 save percentage, was eighth in minutes played and ninth in wins. He went 33-20-7 in 61 games. He led all rookie goalies in every category except save percentage, finishing second to the .917 posted by Nashville's Pekka Rinne.

Columbus was 4-5-2 before he went into the lineup on Nov. 5 and finished 41-31-10. He's the biggest reason the Blue Jackets made the playoffs.

Mason had a fine junior career with the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers and was the 69th pick of the 2006 Entry Draft. He won a gold-medal for Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championship.

Mason went 5-0 for Kitchener in the OHL playoffs last spring, but required surgery on his ailing knee. He wasn't ready at the start of training camp and was assigned to the AHL for six games before being brought up to replace the injured Pascal Leclaire.

 
Like Brimsek, Mason went 3-1 in his first four games, and like Esposito, he gave his team's fans reason to believe they'll have good goaltending for years to come.

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins -- For the second year in a row, Thomas was spectacular. He was the primary reason the Bruins won the Northeast Division, had the best record in the Eastern Conference and fought for the best record in the NHL down to the second-last game of the season.

Thomas led the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage and had five shutouts. He went 36-11-7, gaining 83 percent of the available points in his games for his team.

Thomas, 35, tied Anaheim's Jonas Hiller for the league lead with four shootout road wins and stopped the only penalty shot he faced.

Facing power plays, only Backstrom and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist were better than Thomas's .905 save percentage.

"Look at a guy like Tim Thomas," Mason said. "He really earned his time in the spotlight. It took awhile, but when he was given his chance, he made the most of it and has been one of the dominant goalies for the past three or four years. He's looking at an extremely long playoff run now."

Did the Bruins make Thomas look better, or vice versa? Well, only nine teams allowed more shots on net than Boston, 30.8 per game, but the Bruins allowed the fewest goals-against per game, 2.32. That's relying on the man behind the mask, or in Thomas's case, the mage, the term he uses to describe his hybrid mask/cage.

The lone weakness in arguing on Thomas's behalf is that he played only 54 games in a season in which he was healthy. That's because the Bruins have another veteran, talented, higher-paid goalie in Manny Fernandez, who went 16-8-3 in 28 games, or 63 percent of the available points in his games.

Patrick Roy played 48 games when he won the 1989 Vezina Trophy and 54 when he repeated a year later.

Thomas has already accumulated three honors this season. He played in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. He won the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for best save percentage and shared with Fernandez the William M. Jennings Trophy, which rewards the goalies on the team that permitted the fewest goals.

Thomas is an amazing goalie in that his style is a hybrid of classic butterfly and wild improvisation, not unlike athletic goalies Dominick Hasek and Terry Sawchuk. It's one thing to see those lighter goalies twist and flip and lunge, it's quite another to watch the heavier Thomas move with such quickness.