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Vezina picks: Split vote on Fleury, Lundqvist

by Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek

Not many goalies can say they had a season (and offseason) like Boston's Tim Thomas. In the process of winning the Stanley Cup, Thomas also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy. Several days later he won the Vezina Trophy, and to cap it off he even won an ESPY.
Does he have it in him to do it all over again?
Well, according to us, not this season. And, hey, that's not a knock on Thomas. We just don't think he will do it again.
Instead, here are our picks for this year's Vezina Trophy winner. Feel free to take offense if we didn't pick your guy:
Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins goalie is a dark horse in the Vezina Trophy discussion only because goalies like Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Ilya Bryzgalov and Martin Brodeur are considered the annual favorites to take home this trophy.
Fleury not only deserves to be on that list of the League's elite netminders, he'll put himself at the top with another spectacular season, one that finally will be good enough to net the first pick of the 2003 Entry Draft the individual accolades he has worked hard to achieve.
For starters, Fleury has developed the personality and confidence to handle any bumps in the road. He had a rough start to last season, but rebounded so well that he finished with 36 victories, a career-low 2.32 goals-against average and career-high .918 save percentage.
When Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were lost for the season, Fleury inherited the role as the Penguins' most important player, and he handled himself like the seasoned pro that he is.
Fleury is entering his seventh full NHL season and he plays behind one of the best teams in the League, with or without Crosby in the lineup. He's already won a Stanley Cup and was the third goalie (he didn't play) on Canada's Olympic team that won the gold medal in 2010.
Don't be fooled by the baby face Fleury hides behind his mask. He's gotten better with each passing season because he's a ferocious competitor.
It's high time he becomes known as the NHL's best goaltender. It'll happen this season.
Henrik Lundqvist
The Swedish-born stopper has been a model of consistency during his first six NHL seasons. Lundqvist registered 30 victories as a rookie in 2005-06 and has won at least 35 games in each of the last five seasons. That’s some pretty reliable goaltending.
Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 36-27-5
GAA: 2.28 | SVP: 0.923
"The King" earned a Vezina nomination in each of his first three seasons, losing to Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff in 2006 and Devils rival Martin Brodeur in 2007 and 2008. He could have earned another nomination last season when he recorded 36 wins and 11 shutouts working behind the offensively challenged Rangers.
This season, the 29-year-old Lundqvist should get more support from his teammates. New Rangers center Brad Richards fills a big hole at the top of their lineup. Top sniper Marian Gaborik figures to rebound from an injury-filled season. And young forwards like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov are ready to contribute more. The increased offensive production could help Lundqvist reach the 40-win plateau for the first time in his stellar career.
On the back end, New York has an improving defense led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. And coach John Tortorella demands hard-working, two-way play from his team. These are things that would help any goaltender, no less a star netminder like Lundqvist.
In the past, Lundqvist has come up just a little short with the Vezina voters (the League's 30 general managers). This season, I see him taking his numbers to a level they won't be able to overlook.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl. Follow E.J. Hradek on Twitter at: @EJHradek_NHL
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