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Brodeur, Lundqvist, Nabokov are Vezina finalists

by Dan Rosen

The San Jose Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov led the NHL with 46 wins this season. Evgeni Nabokov highlights
Greatness comes in all levels of experience. Just look at your candidates for the Vezina Trophy as the National Hockey League's best goaltender for the 2007-08 season.

In one corner is the mainstay, the ol' reliable in New Jersey Devils' dynamo Martin Brodeur. Last season, Brodeur captured his third Vezina Trophy in the last four seasons after setting an NHL record with 48 victories. This season he won 44 games.

In another corner, we have the element of surprise, the unlikely candidate in San Jose Sharks veteran Evgeni Nabokov. He has never been a Vezina finalist and had previously never played in more than 67 games in one season. Nabokov played in 77 this time around.

And finally, we have the rising star, the current and future "King" of New York in Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. This is Lundqvist's third-straight season as a Vezina finalist, meaning he's been in the final three in each of his three NHL seasons.

In Brodeur, Nabokov and Lundqvist the three Vezina finalists had a combined 127 wins, including 20 shutouts, 226 games played for 13,499 total minutes played, 5,223 saves versus only 491 goals allowed.

These are staggering numbers, certainly Trophy-worthy numbers. But to truly digest each of these finalists, you have to break them down separately.

Martin Brodeur

All signs (and signings) pointed to this being the year "Marty the Great" took some extra time off. Someone forgot to tell him and rookie coach Brent Sutter, because despite the presence of veteran backup Kevin Weekes, Brodeur still played in all but five games this season, just one less than his 78 a year ago.

He was simply brilliant almost every time out.

Brodeur's 44 wins were second in the League behind only Nabokov's 46. His 2.17 goals-against average was fifth best and his .920 save percentage tied him for fourth in the League among goalies who played in at least 41 games.

Even more impressive was Brodeur's continued durability even at 36-years-old. He played in a staggering 41 straight games to close the regular season, and saw action in all five playoff games before Lundqvist and the Rangers ousted the Devils.

"The reason Marty is who he is is because he takes a lot of pride in doing things right in practice," Sutter said. "Human beings are creatures of habit, and in hockey good habits start in practice. He practices like he wants to be the best."

Evgeni Nabokov

The door re-opened for Nabokov the moment Vesa Toskala was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at last June's Entry Draft. Nabokov and Toskala split time last season, but without a partner Nabokov knew the job in San Jose was once again his to lose.

Without a proven backup for most of the season, Nabokov gave the Sharks little reason to take him out of any game. He was spectacular from beginning to end and in the process set career marks the 32-year-old netminder may never be able to top.

Nabokov led the NHL with 46 victories. His 77 games played tied him with Brodeur for most in the League. His 2.14 goals-against average was third in the NHL and topped his previous best of 2.19 in 2000-01 when he won the Calder Trophy.

Nabokov didn't take a seat at the end of the bench and watch a backup goalie play until Jan. 13. He started the first 43 games of the season, winning 25 of them. He won 25 games all of last season when he played in only 50.

"There aren't many goalies like him out there with that same competitive fire," Sharks center Jeremy Roenick said. "He's our backbone and the guy we rely on every night. When we don't play well, he's always there. He's one of the best goalies I've ever played with and no matter how many games he plays he's the same steady goalie every night. That's a tribute to his dedication to what he does."

Despite a mid-season slump, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist bounced back to record his best season yet with 37 wins in 72 games played.
Henrik Lundqvist

The emergence of Lundqvist in the Rangers net has been the reason New York has gone from missing out on the playoffs for seven-straight seasons before the lockout to a contender playing in its third-straight postseason.

Lundqvist put together his best season yet in 2007-08 winning 37 games in 72 appearances and posting a 2.23 goals-against average with a League-high 10 shutouts. His GAA is a career-best and his 37 victories equaled the career mark he set last season.

Unlike his competition for the Vezina, Lundqvist had to overcome some on-ice and off-ice issues this season to get to this position.

His father grew ill in Sweden, which weighed on his mind and no doubt contributed to his less-than-stellar middle of the season. But Lundqvist closed on a tear with an 8-3-3 mark and only 24 goals allowed in his final 14 regular-season games.

"The good thing about Henrik is he is completely consistent day in and day out with how he prepares himself to play and it doesn't matter who the opponent is," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "That's why he is one of the better ones in the League."

That's why he's among this elite group of finalists.

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