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Goalie matchup: Blackhawks-Canucks

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Goalie matchup: Blackhawks-Canucks
Goaltending is the most important position in any playoff battle. Without good goaltending, the Stanley Cup is near impossible to win.
 
So NHL.com decided to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 16 goalies that will compete for this year's Stanley Cup championship in the most in-depth manner possible.

In order to do that, we found some experts, enlisting Ken Baker and Justin Goldman.

Baker, most recognizable as E!’s Chief News Correspondent, is a goalie junkie. Not only did he play the position in college, but he wrote a memorable book about playing the position, They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven, which chronicled his attempt to make the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors after overcoming a brain tumor. He is also the brain behind the Stop Da Puck blog, which details all things goaltending.

Goldman, meanwhile, is one of the preeminent goaltending experts on the Web. His site, www.thegoalieguild.com serves as a haven for those who share a passion for goaltending with a mission to enhance and advance knowledge of the goaltending position through a wide variety of interactive and in-depth scouting services.

For this exercise, we used a draft mechanism that allowed each expert to pick four of his favorite goalies and start the discussion. Baker picked the four goalies he wanted to trumpet in the West, leaving the rebuttal to Goldman. In the East, Goldman made the picks, leaving rebuttal duties to Baker.

Here are the intriguing results, which promise to be a treasure trove of insider info on the men that more than anyone will determine who advances to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 8 Chicago
Ken Baker chooses Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: It's tempting to hop on the bashing bandwagon and cite the numerous reasons why Roberto Luongo will live down to the low expectations of his haters -- and there are many. It would be easy to proclaim that the regular-season stud once again will hit the Stanley Cup Playoffs and swiftly earn the nickname "Lose-ongo."
 
But I am not going to abandon Luongo. Did he have a shaky playoffs last year? Yes, but the Hawks did end up winning it all. Has his regular-season performance vastly outdone his postseason play? Yes, but his team has also collapsed around him. Is his 12-year, $64 million contract weighing him down? OK, probably, yeah.
 
But this first series in the postseason will be different for Luongo.
 
Here's why: The team in front of him is quite possibly the best to come out of the West since the Gretzky-era Oilers. With the kind of offensive stars he has in front of him, and the tight defense boxing out around him; if all Luongo does is make the saves he's supposed to make, they will take the series. Simple as that.
 
If anything, the All-Star and gold medal-winning Luongo has proved to be more than capable of playing the safe, shutdown role in the goal. His big body fills the net, he plays the angles precisely, he makes good decisions, makes the occasional "big" save, and he controls his rebounds. Rather than try too hard to prove he deserved to be the highest-paid goalie in the League, Luongo has been finding success by keeping it simple.
 
This blue-collar approach is what Luongo has channeled all season long and was more than adequate enough to lead the Canucks to allowing the fewest goals in the League.
 
The Blackhawks may have eliminated the Canucks the past two playoffs. But this is a different, less-potent team of Hawks. This is a different, more-potent Canucks. Most important, this is a different Luongo. And his proving ground will be the same ice on which he won the Olympic gold for Canada. If, like a lot of haters, you bet against him, I wouldn't bet the farm. 
Goldman counters: I'm so sick of hearing that Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks "backed in" to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Do you really think a 26-year-old rookie with 255 AHL games under his belt cares at all how he got in?

During Chicago's regular-season finale against Detroit, Crawford looked stiff, nervous and uncomfortable. He was beat three times to the blocker side, possibly exposing a visible weakness in his game. That clearly didn't do him any favors heading into this series, as that shocking loss added fuel to every Luongo lover's fire.

Despite Crawford's weak play in that game, discrediting his ability to play with poise and focus is missing the point of what makes him a viable candidate for an upset. Not only is the element of surprise on his side, so too is the potential to steal games.

But why?

It's his ability to play with confidence regardless of the situation. That was the main reason why he won 33 games and posted a 2.30 goals-against average to begin with.

Now I'm not going to try to sway you to believe Crawford is as talented as Luongo. We all know who the superior goalie is and Ken clearly stated a few reasons why. I also happen to agree with him regarding Luongo's blue-collared approach to stopping the puck this season.

Speaking of a blue-collared approach -- Crawford definitely knows how to git 'er done.

He's the starter with a backup's work ethic. He's the one that asks his teammates at the end of practice if they want more shots. He's the one that stays on the ice late and gets to the rink early. He's the one that does whatever it takes to prove he's ready to play at his best. He's the one that treats every practice like a tryout and is always trying to impress his coach.

Crawford also wields the power of the one true X-factor in goaltending -- mental toughness.

Mental toughness kicks technique in the teeth and puts every goalie on equal terms. It throws stats and history out the window during the playoffs and forces both goalies to prove themselves during each and every moment.

Sure, maybe Crawford did get lucky by "backing in" to the playoffs. But that won't cause him to back down from this challenge. 

Quote of the Day

Obviously a lot happened in a short period of time. At the end of the day, considering everything I went through, I really felt close to my teammates and I really feel like what we accomplished, I know we didn't win it all. ... I'm really proud of how we got there and what we did once we got there.

— Rangers forward Martin St. Louis to Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com