There's a decidedly European feel to this year's Vezina Trophy candidates.
Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks have been named finalists for the 2013 Vezina Trophy, awarded annually "to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position," as voted by the general managers of the 30 NHL clubs.
This is the first time all three Vezina finalists were born and trained in Europe. It's also the ninth-straight year at least one Vezina finalist is European.
In his first season in Columbus, Bobrovsky, 24, emerged as the force that nearly drove the team to its second-ever berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He started the season battling Steve Mason for the No. 1 spot, but took full control of the job in March, a month that saw him voted the League's Third Star of the month after going 9-2-3 with a 1.49 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and three shutouts in 14 games. He went 18-5-3 in his final 26 games, and the Blue Jackets battled into the final weekend for a spot in the Western Conference's top eight. On the season, Bobrovsky went 21-11-6, and was second in the League with a .932 save percentage and fifth with a 2.00 goals-against average.
If he wins, Bobrovsky would be the first Russian-born goalie to win the Vezina. An undrafted free agent who signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and played two seasons for them prior to being traded to the Blue Jackets in June, he would join Ed Belfour (1991, 1993) as the only undrafted goalies to win the award since the League GMs began voting for it in 1982.
Lundqvist, last year's Vezina winner, is a finalist for the award for the fifth time. The 31-year-old tied for the League lead this season with 24 wins, and finished in the top seven in the League with a 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage.
If Lundqvist repeats as Vezina winner, he would be the second European goalie to do so, following Dominik Hasek, who won it in 1994 and 1995, and three in a row from 1997-99.
Niemi, 29, tied Lundqvist for the League lead with 24 wins, the fourth straight season he's won at least 20. He tied for the second-most shutouts in the League with four, was seventh with a .924 save percentage and also had a 2.16 GAA. The GAA and save percentage were the best full-season numbers he's produced in his career.
An undrafted free agent who joined the Sharks after leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup, Niemi would be the second-ever Finnish-born goaltender to win the Vezina, joining Miikka Kiprusoff (2006).