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 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Nashville |
| |Ken Baker chooses Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators:
Statistically, he's the Tim Thomas of the West. Though second NHL-wide only to Thomas in save percentage and a close third in goals-against, Rinne's outrageously good stats are only a starting point for explaining just how dominant the Finn has been this year.
Rinne is 6-foot-5, but it's not his size that impresses as much as, well, what he does with it.
He snaps his butterflies down to the ice like a more compact keeper, his torso posture is straighter than an Alberta highway, and he sucks pucks into his body so well that rebounds are about as common as a snowy day in Southern California.
Rinne, 28, under the guidance of legendary Preds goalie coach Mitch Korn (he coached Dominik Hasek to four Vezinas with the Sabres and helped turn Tomas Vokoun from good to great), has perfected a highly aggressive, challenging style in which he spends so little time deep in his crease you'd think he was allergic to blue.
But what has made Rinne a Vezina-worthy goalie is what he does when things go bad:
• When screened he finds and tracks the puck like he's got the rubber on a GPS tracker
• When he's caught down in a scramble, his Hasek-like arms and legs desperately find a way to stop da puck
• When he lets in a stinker (hardly ever) he plays the next shot with amnesia.
Whether Ray Emery heals, Dan Ellis shows up to play, or Jonas Hiller rises from his dizzy ashes, the Ducks almost certainly will be out-manned in net -- unless all three of them step in at the same time. But if there's any good news for Anaheim it's this: Should Corey Perry & Co. solve the Rinne puzzle, the Ducks likely will face no tougher goalie later in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than this Tennessee 'Tending Titan.
Goldman counters: I firmly believe that the power of a goalie's mind totally trumps the power of their body. No goalie in the world reflects this philosophy better than Ray Emery.
Avascular Necrosis. Even the name sounds like some kind of bone-melting plague from the Middle Ages. This terrible disease, the same one that destroyed Bo Jackson's pro career, was simply no match for Emery. Bedridden for nearly four months after major hip surgery, he never gave up the hope that he might once again stop pucks in the NHL.
That hope slowly turned into potential. Then potential turned into possibility. The possibility then became probability. Probability transformed into probably, and then suddenly turned into definitely the day that Anaheim signed Emery.
Then I watched with a dropped jaw as definitely turned into a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he rattled off seven wins in nine games.
Even though a minor setback might force the Masterton Trophy nominee to miss Game 1, Anaheim has no problem relying on Dan Ellis. He was clutch in their final two games of the season and would love nothing more than to exact revenge on his former team.
Like Ken said in his airtight argument for Rinne, regardless of who plays for the Ducks, they're out-manned and out-skilled. So if the Ducks are to be successful against the Predators, both goalies will have to find a way to out-work their opponent.
That means no sloppy or lazy rebounds and absolutely no softies of any kind.
Even though Rinne dominates in the skills department, there are still a few elements that lend a hand to the E-Team's success. First of all, Emery and Ellis are way more rested. They are also challenging each other for the chance to play more. It's a good old internal duel for glory and fame, and that healthy competition is nothing but a good thing for the Ducks. And let's not forget Jonas Hiller, Anaheim's goalie for much of the season before a bout of vertigo-like symptoms shut him down, is waiting in the wings.
The hidden key to Anaheim's success, however, might be the power of Emery's mind. It's a force with which to be reckoned. He not only has Sugar Ray Leonard reflected on the sides of his mask, but also in his heart and soul. Emery is a true fighter and a real warrior. He doesn't give up on anything, not even when a dreaded bone disease knocks him out.
If he can beat that, he can beat the Predators in a seven-game series. Let's just hope he's healthy enough to do so. If not, I hope Emery injected some of that fight into Ellis' bones.