By Dave Lozo
The race for the Vezina Trophy this season has been mostly a two-man race between Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jonathan Quick
of the Los Angeles Kings. Lundqvist has led the way, but Quick has slowly closed the gap over the second half of the season.
Other goaltenders have played themselves into the discussion at various times -- Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators has the biggest workload of any goaltender and has been solid, Kari Lehtonen carried the Dallas Stars for long stretches, and Brian Elliott's numbers while working mostly as a backup in St. Louis have been extraordinary.
In the end, Quick has earned the right to be called the NHL's best goaltender, narrowly edging Lundqvist with Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes rounding out the finalists.WINNERJonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings --
The 26-year-old has bested his numbers from the previous season for the third straight year, setting career bests in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts, all while playing for a team that didn't offer much offensive support for most of the season.
Five times this season, Quick has been the losing goaltender in a 1-0 game. Eight times, Quick has been the losing goaltender in a 2-1 game. The Kings rank 29th in the NHL in goals per game, and a big reason why they are contending for a Pacific Division title is the strong play of their goaltender, who leads the NHL in shutouts.
Quick set a club record with a shutout streak of 202:11 in October, making 92 straight saves along the way. Playing goaltender in the NHL is never easy, but having to play for a team that has a hard time scoring three goals most nights adds to the pressure.
When comparing Quick and Lundqvist, the numbers are virtually identical in GAA, save percentage, shutouts, wins and shots faced per game. But Quick wins the award by the narrowest of margins because he makes far more starts than Lundqvist and has exceled despite the razor-thin margin of error he faces almost every night.
Since January, Quick is 18-11-6 with a 1.74 GAA and .930 save percentage; Lundqvist is 22-10-1 with a 1.92 GAA and .927 save percentage.FINALISTSHenrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers --
When Tim Thomas ran away with the Vezina Trophy last season, he did so with a 2.00 GAA, .938 save percentage and eight shutouts. This season, Lundqvist is putting up comparable numbers and will do so while making more starts.
The Rangers spent the first 36 games of the season without No. 1 defenseman Marc Staal, and a lot was made of Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto stepping up their game to soften the blow. But Lundqvist was just as important during the first three months, going 16-7-3 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
Lundqvist has allowed two goals or fewer in 41 of his 60 starts. When making 30 or more saves, he is 11-5-1 with a 2.03 GAA, .942 save percentage and two shutouts. Lundqvist's longest regulation losing streak this year has been two games.
The three-time finalist is enjoying a career year while playing the fewest games in a single season since taking over the starting job in 2006-07. In any other season, Lundqvist would be a lock for the Vezina, but unfortunately for him, Quick is having a slightly more impressive season.Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes --
The 30-year-old finally realized his potential under the tutelage of goaltending coach Sean Burke in Dave Tippett's system. Smith left Tampa Bay via free agency and was asked to replace 2011 Vezina finalist Ilya Bryzgalov.
All Smith has done is win 35 games in his first full season as a starter and kept the Coyotes in the mix for a Western Conference playoff spot all season. In February, Smith went 11-0-0 with a 1.42 GAA, .952 save percentage and two shutouts. While the Coyotes are known for their defense-first posture, they rank near the bottom of the NHL in shots allowed.
His one assist this season belies the notion, but Smith is also an excellent stickhandler with the ability to act as a third defenseman and start breakouts that can catch the opposition in a line change.
In a season in which Lundqvist and Quick have been dominant, Smith has proven he can be an elite No. 1 goaltender.