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Florida, Boston and Toronto hope new goalies will make them playoff teams

NHL.com @NHL

A trio of Eastern Conference teams feel they've made themselves better this off-season by acquiring goalies who couldn't hold on to No. 1 jobs in the West.

Trades brought Tomas Vokoun to Florida, Manny Fernandez to Boston and Vesa Toskala to Toronto this summer and every one of those teams is hoping those guys can carry them to the playoffs.

Expectations might be a little high.

All three have shown some shaky form during the pre-season, although it would be foolish to put too much stock in the exhibition play.

Vokoun was on vacation in Turkey when he found out Nashville had traded him to the Panthers and he was shocked by the news. His US$5.3-million salary and the emergence of Chris Mason made him expendable in the Music City.

He now joins a young team in South Florida that said goodbye to goaltenders Ed Belfour and Alex Auld over the summer. In acquiring Vokoun, the Panthers believe they now have the foundation for winning.

"(Goaltending) was a need we had to address," GM/coach Jacques Martin said recently. "It was important that Vokoun had a contract for the next four years and it fit into my philosophy to build a team. We didn't have to give up anything from our hockey team to get him, either, and I believe you start your team with goaltending."

That was thinking in Boston, too, where the Bruins traded for Fernandez after failing to land Toskala in a trade. Boston used five different goalies last season and decided they needed an upgrade on Tim Thomas as a No. 1 netminder.

Fernandez was always part of a goaltending tandem during seven seasons in Minnesota and has never played more than 58 games in a season. He thought he had finally secured the No. 1 job last year, but suffered a knee injury and watched Nicklas Backstrom steal it away.

He's happy to have a fresh start and is aiming to play as many as 65 or 70 games for the Bruins.

"Oh yeah, I think that's everybody's goal," said Fernandez. "Hopefully, that's the case this year."

In Toronto, Toskala is also hoping to pile on the minutes. He's been stuck behind Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose and just wants a chance to show he can be a No. 1.

The Finn's play will be under intense scrutiny while playing in a Canadian market, especially because Andrew Raycroft will start the season as his backup. He was the starter last season and won 37 games.

However, he didn't win the faith of Leafs management who felt they needed a goaltending upgrade to qualify for the post-season. In all likelihood, Toskala and Raycroft will probably end up splitting the starts - just as Fernandez and Thomas might do in Boston.

There are very few automatic No. 1 goalies anywhere in the NHL. There's no question that guys like Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary have total job security. But others will need to play well to keep getting starts.

Brodeur won his third Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender last season and is closing in on some major records. The 35-year-old is second in all-time wins and third in career shutouts.

While he's probably not going to get the 58 wins needed to pass Patrick Roy or the 12 shutouts required to get by Terry Sawchuck, Brodeur will inch closer to those marks. It's something he'll have on his mind.

"Well, it's hard not to pay attention to them because a lot of people will bring it up to me all the time everywhere I go," said Brodeur. "The closer I'm going to get, you know, it's going to get - it will be more emphasis on it. ...

"I mean, these are a couple things that I'm definitely looking forward to try to accomplish in the next few seasons. But this is not why I play hockey. I'm fortunate to play in an organization and teams that believed in winning and made everything possible for me to be in a position like that."

Luongo hopes his second season in Vancouver will be as successful as the first. He won 47 games for the Canucks last season and is credited as the major reason why they reached the second round of the playoffs.

He'll be key in getting the team to the next level.

"We were proud of what we accomplished last year because not a lot of people put us in that situation," said Luongo. "Now that we've been there, we've had a taste of it.

"We want to take the next step, which would be obviously trying to win the Stanley Cup."

No team will be sipping champagne from that trophy without an excellent year from its goaltender.

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