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Top goalie match-ups of the 2013-14 season

by Rob Mixer & Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets

Goaltending is one of - if not the most - important positions in hockey. It's a lonely world between the pipes sometimes, but the athletes behind the mask are some of the most gifted in sports. On a nightly basis, their world-class blend of athleticism, reflexes, competitiveness and resolve is pushed to the limit as they try to keep the world's best hockey players in check.

A year ago, the best goaltender in the National Hockey League played in Columbus. Sergei Bobrovsky, acquired the previous summer from the Philadelphia Flyers, went 21-11-6 for the Blue Jackets in 2012-13 and was a big reason why they remained in playoff contention until the final moments of the regular season. His performance showed how crucial goaltending is to sustained success in the NHL, and as the Blue Jackets move to the Eastern Conference this season, they're going to see another group of the best goalies in the game.

We've put together a short list of the "top goaltending match-ups" to watch during this upcoming season, but this is just the beginning. It's sure to be an exciting story to follow as the Blue Jackets get acclimated to their new surroundings.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2012-13 Season
Record: 21-11-6-4
Save Percentage: .932
Goals Against Average: 2.00

NHL Career
Record: 63-34-16-4
Save Percentage: .917
Goals Against Average: 2.49

Last Season: Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in the 2012-13 season. Though the Blue Jackets just missed making it into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bobrovsky was the solid backbone for the team’s end-of-season 19-5-5 run. Bobrovsky shut down some of the Western Conference’s biggest stars and when he let in a goal, he bounced back better than before.

New York Rangers

2012-13 Season
Record: 24-16-3-2
Save Percentage: .926
Goals Against Average: 2.05

NHL Career
Record: 276-171-57-45
Save Percentage: .920
Goals Against Average: 2.25

Last Season: King Henrik came up big when it mattered for the Rangers during the season. He was even nominated for the Vezina Trophy. His playoff performance was stellar, but the team just could not advance past the Boston Bruins.

Head-to-Head: Bobrovsky and Lundqvist have each had their share of clutch performances in crucial moments. While Lundqvist plays more inside his net and uses his size to his advantage, Bobrovsky is better at controlling the puck and taking away shooting angles with his elite athleticism. In a game situation, simply put, the hotter goalie will walk away victorious but this match-up will be a good one inside the division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

2012-13 Season
Record: 23-8-0-1
Save Percentage: .916
Goals Against Average: 2.39

NHL Career
Record: 249-151-39-23
Save Percentage: .910
Goals Against Average: 2.66

Last Season: Fleury put on a strong regular season performance, helping the Penguins climb to the top of the Eastern Conference and into a prime spot heading into the postseason. Though his nerves appeared to get the best of him in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs (namely in the first round against the Islanders), Fleury’s veteran experience has been crucial to the Penguins franchise’s success.

Head-to-Head: This is a matchup of young talent versus veteran experience. Fleury has played over 400 NHL games, whereas Bobrovsky has only played around 100 games. Fleury’s tall and lanky frame and technicality allows him to use his quick reflexes to stop initial shots, whereas Bobrovsky uses his flexibility and control to stop shot after shot.

Carolina Hurricanes

2012-13 Season
Record: 9-6-1-0
Save Percentage: .908
Goals Against Average: 2.84

NHL Career
Record: 214-155-47-21
Save Percentage: .910
Goals Against Average: 2.74

Last Season: The Hurricanes had a lot of momentum at the start of the 2012-13 season after adding top-end forwards like Jordan Staal and Alex Semin and even the Southeast Division for multiple weeks. The key to that success was Cam Ward. When Ward went down with a season-ending MCL injury, the Hurricanes slowly slipped out of playoff contention.

Head-to-Head: Ward plays a similar style to Bobrovsky. He is a young, talented butterfly goalie who is extremely consistent in net and works hard to be in proper position for every puck. Both goalies are used to carrying their teams in the sense that their hard work and great play inspires their teammates to play better, and there's no better case of that than Bobrovsky in 2013. Bobrovsky carried the Blue Jackets down the stretch, just as Cam Ward carried the Hurricanes to their 2006 Stanley Cup championship.

Boston Bruins

2012-13 Season
Record: 19-10-5-5
Save Percentage: .929
Goals Against Average: 2.00

NHL Career
Record: 66-45-16-16
Save Percentage: .927
Goals Against Average: 2.15

Last Season: Rask stunned everyone with his playoff performance, helping the Boston Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Head-to-Head: Rask bided his time in Boston and waited until Tim Thomas retired/was traded/wants to come back now, and he rewarded the Bruins once the No. 1 job became his. Though he wasn’t nominated for the Vezina Trophy, Rask backstopped the Bruins all the way to the Stanley Cup Final and almost single-handedly kept Boston in games. After the season, he signed an eight-year extension that secures him as the Bruins’ top goalie for years to come, and there will certainly be some goaltending duos between him and Bobrovsky. They’re a year apart in age and have played a similar number of NHL games, and there is a lot of exciting hockey ahead of them.

Montreal Canadiens

2012-13 Season
Record: 21-13-4
Save Percentage: .905
Goals Against Average: 2.59

NHL Career
Record: 145-117-39
Save Percentage: .915
Goals Against Average: 2.56

Last Season: Price was a big part of Montreal’s strong regular season campaign, but was injured late in Game 4 of their first-round series against Ottawa.

Head-to-Head: It will be interesting to see how the Canadiens and Blue Jackets match up, but more so between the pipes where Price has been a main stay in Montreal for a few seasons. Much like the Blue Jackets did a year ago, the Canadiens rely heavily on Price to keep afloat when they’re under duress and he can occasionally steal a game for them along the way. Price will be back and healthy for the start of the 2013-14 season and with a strong campaign, he will be a contender for Canada’s starting goalie at the Olympics.

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