|The Vezina Trophy has eluded Rangers goalies since 1986, but Henrik Lundqvist has a chance to bring it home Thursday. |
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Rangers fans who showered goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
with chants of "Hen-rik, Hen-rik" throughout the 2007-08 season will learn on Thursday night whether the 30 NHL general managers were listening.
For the third consecutive year since he entered the NHL in 2005, Lundqvist is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the goaltender recognized by GMs as the league's very best.
Thursday's NHL Awards ceremony, which includes the Vezina presentation, will air live at 7 p.m. on Versus, and Lundqvist will attend the black-tie event along with other award finalists.
As a rookie in 2005-06, Lundqvist finished third in the voting, and he tied for third again last year. This time, however, he has an even stronger chance of becoming the first Rangers goalie to win the award since John Vanbiesbrouck
did it 22 years ago and the first Swede since the late Pelle Lindbergh in 1985.
His remarkable, league-leading 10 shutouts make Lundqvist such a great Vezina candidate, and could send him past fellow finalists Martin Brodeur of New Jersey and Evgeni Nabokov of San Jose on Thursday night.
The past four NHL shutout leaders have won the Vezina. Brodeur did it in 2003, 2004 and 2007, and Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff claimed the trophy in 2006.
In a significant comparison to this year's situation, Kiprusoff won the 2006 Vezina with 10 shutouts in a season where co-finalist Brodeur had actually led the NHL in wins. Lundqvist faces similarly tough competition in Nabokov, who led the league with 46 wins -- just two short of the league record set by Brodeur in 2006-07. Nabokov also has an edge in goals-against average with an NHL-best 2.14 GAA compared to Lundqvist's 2.23, which ranked fourth in the league.
Prior to the 1981-82 season, the Vezina was automatically awarded to goaltenders who played for the team with the lowest GAA. That all changed in 1981, when St. Louis' Mike Liut finished second to Wayne Gretzky in the 1980-81 MVP race but was not even eligible to win the Vezina because the Blues' overall team GAA was mediocre. To remedy the situation, the league began to recognize individual goaltenders, regardless of team record or performance.
Since then, the Vezina has been awarded 25 times to a total of 15 different goaltenders. Recently-retired Dominik Hasek has a record four Vezina wins, but Brodeur has a chance to tie that mark by winning a fourth on Thursday. While Brodeur's stats are strong, his shutout total was well below his normal output and less than half of Lundqvist's number.
Of the 25 Vezina Trophy presentations since 1982, 12 went to the NHL's shutout leader, while 11 went to the wins leader. Since the 1990-91 season, the tendency has been to honor shutouts over wins. Of the 16 awards given out since 1991, 11 have gone to shutout leaders, and only four have gone to wins leaders. If that trend holds up this year, Lundqvist could take the award over Nabokov, who had only six shutouts -despite his impressive wins and goals-against average.
Voting is based solely on regular-season performance, with ballots having been collected before the playoffs even began.
In 2007-08, the 26-year-old Lundqvist appeared in 72 games -- five fewer than Nabokov and Brodeur -- and posted a record of 37-24-10, along with a 2.23 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and 10 shutouts. In addition to his league-leading shutout total, he ranked among the league leaders in several goaltending categories including wins (tied for fourth) and goals-against average (sixth).
While Lundqvist is looking to follow in Vanbiesbrouck's footsteps on Thursday, he is more frequently compared to another Vezina winner, Ed Giacomin
, who claimed the award under the old format in 1970-71. Lundqvist's 2007-08 season marked the first time since Giacomin's Vezina year that a Rangers goaltender led the league in shutouts, and his 10 shutouts were the most by a Rangers netminder since John Ross Roach
posted 13 in 1928-29.
On March 18, Lundqvist recorded his 100th career victory in his 187th appearance, becoming the fastest Rangers goaltender to reach the mark – 11 games ahead of the previous record held by Mike Richter
. He also became only the second goalie in NHL history to record three straight 30-win seasons to begin his career, matching the achievement of former Vezina winner Ron Hextall.