Between the pipes

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:37 PM ET

J-S.Giguere would have loved to pull off the swap of a lifetime.

Standing on the ice at the steamy Continental Airlines Arena on that sweaty June evening in 2003, Giguere, his hands resting on the shiny Conn Smythe trophy he had just won, could only helplessly watch as New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and his teammates raced around the rink hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Having just lost the seventh game of the Cup final to the Devils, the Anaheim goalie was hardly planning a parade route for capturing the Smythe, which goes to the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Given his druthers, he much rather would have traded places with Brodeur.

"It was bittersweet," Giguere recalled. "Listen, the Smythe is a nice trophy and I was honoured to win it. But I wanted the Cup.

"If you win the Smythe as a member of the losing team, you can't really go back into the dressing room pounding your chest."

Who could have guessed on that fateful night that, of the two goalies on the ice, Giguere would get to his next final ahead of Brodeur? And, to his credit, he would make the most of it.

Four years after experiencing such disappointment in the Jersey swamps, Giguere led his Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup final, defeating the Ottawa Senators in five games to claim the title.

With three Stanley Cup rings to his credit, Brodeur easily is the top gun when it comes to being a money goalie in the postseason. But given his recent success in hockey's spring dance, Giguere has clawed his way to No. 2 in the Sun Media rankings entering the 2008 playoffs.

Consider that Giguere put together his impressive '07 run after missing the first few postseason games while dealing with health issues concerning his infant boy.

"When my son was born with an eye condition, well, family is 100 times more important than hockey," Giguere said. "After the doctors said he would be OK and I got back into games, well, it was a relief. Besides I was confident we could go a long way."

While experience is always a valuable commodity this time of year, Giguere said his Conn Smythe Trophy journey of 2003 showed it is not always vital.

Just look at Cam Ward who, as a rookie, helped the Carolina Hurricanes capture the Cup three years later. It worked for Ward in 2006. Will the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price follow suit in 2008?

"When you are a young guy, you have nothing to lose," Giguere explained .

"No one expects you to win anyway."

Keeping that in mind, here are our rankings for the 16 starters poised to make a run at the Cup (with postseason appearances and wins-losses/goals against average/and shutouts).

1. Martin Brodeur, Devils

Playoff appearances: 164

W/L: 94-70 GAA: 1.93 SO: 22

This might be the weakest Devils team to have ever lined up in front of him for a postseason run. But if anyone can get them over the hurdle, it is Brodeur, who soon will hold every significant career goaltending record.

2. J-S. Giguere, Ducks

Playoff appearances: 45

W/L: 31-13 GAA: 1.96 SO: 6

There always will be whining that his ballooned equipment makes him look like the Michelin Man between the pipes. But with two final appearances, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup ring under his belt, Giggy is money in the spring.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers

Playoff appearances: 13

W/L: 6-7GAA: 2.58 SO: 1

Playoff pressure? Phooey! Try being the guy who succeeded national scapegoat Tommy Salo between the pipes for Team Sweden at an Olympics. Now that's pressure! Yet Lundqvist still led the Tre Kroner to the gold in Nagano in 2006. One cool cat,

4. Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks

Playoff appearances: 46

W/L: 24-20 GAA: 2.17 SO: 5

Coming off a Vezina-type regular season, Nabokov could lead the Sharks on a deep run with any kind of offensive support. We're talking about you, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo!

5. Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames

Playoff appearances: 43

W/L: 21-20 GAA: 2.06 SO: 5

Kipper resembled a human bowling pin with the way the Red Wings were knocking him down in the first round a year ago. Take this to the bank: Teams won't be taking liberties with him again under Iron Mike Keenan's watch. Can be a real difference maker.

6. Dominik Hasek, Red Wings

Playoff appearances: 115

W/L: 63-47, GAA: 1.99, SO: 14

At one time The Dominator had the flexibility of Gumby. No more. With age has come brittleness for Dom Dom. Don't be surprised if coach Mike Babcock turns to Chris Osgood (87/45-37, 2.24, 10).

7. Marty Turco, Stars

Playoff appearances: 29

W/L: 11-18 GAA: 2.21 SO: 3

Dogged by a rep of crumbling under postseason pressure, Turco was brilliant in the first round against the Canucks a year ago. Let's see if the addition of Brad Richards finally gives the offensively challenged Stars the pop they need.

8. Cristobal Huet, Capitals

Playoff appearances: 6

W/L: 2-4, GAA: 2.33 SO: 0

No puckstopper enters the post-season on a hotter note than Huet, who has won nine consecutive starts for the Caps. He'd like nothing better than to get a shot at bringing down the Habs, the team that traded him away.

9. Carey Price, Canadiens

Playoff appearances: 0

Would be much higher on this list if he had any previous NHL playoff experience. Then again, given the fact Ken Dryden (1971) and Patrick Roy (1986) were rookies who led the Habs to Stanley Cups, maybe he should be. He's that good.

10. Nicklas Backstrom, Wild

Playoff appearances: 5

W/L: 1-4, GAA: 2.22, SO: 0

Has been a regular season stud, now must avoid being a playoff dud. Coach Jacques Lemaire's defence-first philosophy can suck the life out of any offence -- not to mention the excitement out of any game -- which works to Backstrom's advantage.

11. Jose Theodore, Avalanche

Playoff appearances: 37

W/L: 15-20 GAA: 2.67 SO: 1

Can be awfully good one moment, just plain awful the next. To his credit, he has had a solid comeback season in 2007-08, although the critics still have questions. He could shut up all the doubters with a strong post-season.

12. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins

Playoff appearances: 5

W/L: 1-4, GAA: 3.76 SO: 0

Bringing another Cup to The Igloo is contingent on how well Fleury answers the bell.

He is the biggest question mark in an otherwise impressive Pens lineup. Inconsistent for much of his young career, he has been playing his best hockey the past five weeks.

13. Martin Biron, Flyers

Playoff appearances: 0

Ended the regular season on a high note with back-to-back shutouts. We're betting that's not going to happen against the high-flying Caps. Poor Biron probably is having nightmares of Ovechkin repeatly swooping in alone on him. Note to Marty: It's not a dream; it's reality.

14. Tim Thomas, Bruins

Playoff appearances: 0

The only guy in the league who consistenty appears on the highlight reels for "Best Saves Of The Year" and "Worst Goals Allowed Of The Year." No goalie in the league can run more hot and cold than this guy.

15. Martin Gerber, Senators

Playoff appearances: 8

W/L: 1-1 GAA: 3.53. SO: 1

There is nothing the fine citizenry of the nation's capital would enjoy more than to see the highly criticized Gerber make all his naysayers eat their words. Of course, most of the criticism has come from within Ottawa.

16. Dan Ellis, Predators

Playoff appearances: 0

Came into prominence just this season. He is the wild card in the playoff dance, a relative unknown who could make a name for himself by felling the Big Bad Red Wings.


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