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Goalie matchup: Lightning-Penguins

NHL.com @NHL
Goaltending is the most important position in any playoff battle. Without good goaltending, the Stanley Cup is near impossible to win.
 
So NHL.com decided to break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 16 goalies that will compete for this year's Stanley Cup championship in the most in-depth manner possible.

In order to do that, we found some experts, enlisting Ken Baker and Justin Goldman.

Baker, most recognizable as E!’s Chief News Correspondent, is a goalie junkie. Not only did he play the position in college, but he wrote a memorable book about playing the position, They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven, which chronicled his attempt to make the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors after overcoming a brain tumor. He is also the brain behind the Stop Da Puck blog, which details all things goaltending.

Goldman, meanwhile, is one of the preeminent goaltending experts on the Web. His site, www.thegoalieguild.com serves as a haven for those who share a passion for goaltending with a mission to enhance and advance knowledge of the goaltending position through a wide variety of interactive and in-depth scouting services.

For this exercise, we used a draft mechanism that allowed each expert to pick four of his favorite goalies and start the discussion. Baker picked the four goalies he wanted to trumpet in the West, leaving the rebuttal to Goldman. In the East, Goldman made the picks, leaving rebuttal duties to Baker.

Here are the intriguing results, which promise to be a treasure trove of insider info on the men that more than anyone will determine who advances to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay
Justin Goldman chooses Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay: Like a fine vintage wine from the hidden hills of Tuscany, Dwayne Roloson continues to quietly improve with age.

His butterfly style is the epitome of economy. By minimizing movements and using a very compact, yet aggressive, stance, he saves a ton of energy during the course of a game. He never moves unless he absolutely has to, while his narrow butterfly eliminates unnecessary stress on his hips and lower back.

Roloson also butterfly slides in short, powerful bursts. This allows him to spend more time on his skates and grants him the ability to move around his crease at faster speeds. It's almost like his entire game is based on a philosophy of conservation.

I also bet you didn't know about Roloson's unique vision training. Thanks to his time spent with Dr. Mark Gordon, a developmental optometrist that works with many pro athletes, Dwayne trains his eyes to conserve even more energy during a game. He does numerous eye exercises that improve his ability to process different speeds, increase his peripheral vision and enhance his overall eye-hand coordination.

These hidden elements of Roloson's game are a major reason why he's primed for a big first-round performance.

Not only is Roloson's technical game aged to perfection, so too is his mind. He experienced plenty of trepidation on a well-traveled but unsuccessful journey to the Stanley Cup Final. He was subjected to the frustrations of playing in a tandem for numerous years. He also played on a struggling Islanders team and still performed exceptionally well.

No matter what kind of obstacle is thrown in his path, Roloson finds a way to bust through it and come out the other side stronger than before. His work ethic and determination are just a few other active ingredients that create a tasty recipe for playoff success.

A young man's deeds become an old man's wisdom. As a goaltender, you live and learn. Marc-Andre Fleury might have a ring on his finger, but Roloson has fire in his eyes and experience on his side.
Baker counters: To take a page from the Bruce Boudreau script, let's be blunt: Marc-Andre Fleury had a mind-numbingly lousy start to the season.
 
In his first six games, he posted a leaky .851 save percentage and notched just one win. The goalie known as the "Flower" was wilting.  But by the time HBO's cameras flicked on, Fleury had famously turned his season around and by April had become the team's MVP. Fleury finished off his last six games of the regular season with a .920 save percentage.
 
Mid-season, when Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and scores of other Pens went down with injuries, Fleury stepped up -- and, at times, stood on his head. Possibly the most aggressive and quickest goalie in the League, Fleury may have won the Cup in 2009, but it is in 2011 that the Flower has blossomed from Robin into Batman.
 
Pens coach Dan Bylsma sums up Fleury's season the best: "In difficult times, he's been the backbone of our team and the most consistent performer. And that has given our team confidence to win hockey games, no matter what our lineup is, no matter what the score is. If it has to be a 2-1 game or a 0-0 game, he's the guy that's given us the confidence. He's giving confidence to our penalty kill, to our defense. For our team to be able to play and believe we can win hockey games and be a successful team stems from his play."
 
Not only did Fleury, still just 26, exhibit great mental toughness in overcoming his abysmal start, but he also showed an ability to correct his technique in real time. He went from falling down too much, to staying upright and powering his butterflies ... from too often coming out too far and letting plays happen behind him, to staying more efficiently at home ... from over-using his paddle-down, to going blade down and two gloves up.

And due to him having the experience of winning the 2009 Cup with a diving stop with 1.5 seconds left, I give Fleury two Lightning-fast thumbs up. 

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