Ranking the stoppers

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

When dissecting the statistics of the 16 starting goaltenders involved in the quest for the Stanley Cup this spring, you quickly come to one poignant conclusion:

Playoff experience is almost as rare as a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Toronto -- at least since 1967.

Aside from Detroit Red Wings dinosaur Dominik Hasek, who has made more comebacks than the Who, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur boasts more career post-season victories (89) than any other starter has playoff appearances.

"Amazing, isn't it?" Brodeur said. "It just shows you how much times have changed.

"There was a time when it seemed like it would always come down to guys like Patrick Roy, Eddie Belfour, Dominik Hasek and myself when the playoffs started. But it's a different era now. You have a lot more younger guys coming up. It's time for the Ryan Millers, Evgeni Nabokovs, Miikka Kiprusoffs, J-S Gigueres, Roberto Luongos and Marty Turcos to step up. It's their time.

"You never know, though. Just look at last year."

Brodeur makes a good point.

During the 2006 playoffs, Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward became the Cinderella story of the spring, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy while leading his team to the Stanley Cup. Ten months later, Ward is swinging a golf club along with his teammates after failing to qualify for the post-season.

Will the experience of Brodeur and Hasek prevail in the end this time around? If not, who will be this year's Cam Ward?

Of course, regular season success does not always translate into playoff glory. Just ask the Dallas Stars' Turco, whose stats seem to mushroom at playoff time each spring.

Keeping that in mind, here are our rankings of the 16 starters poised to make a run at the Cup (with post-season appearances and wins-losses-goals against average and shutouts):

1. MARTIN BRODEUR

Devils -- 153

89-64 / 1.89 / 21

Three Stanley Cup rings, an Olympic gold medal and a World Cup title. Gives an otherwise ordinary team a shot at the title every year. Pressure? What pressure?

2. MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF

Flames -- 37

19-16 / 1.93 / 5

The Saddledome could be burning down and the unflappable Finn would still be leaning on his net with his mask pushed up. Calm cool and collected cat who knows what it's like to get to the final.

3. RYAN MILLER

Sabres -- 18

11-7 / 2.56 / 1

Won't show it publicly but he's one of the most competitive goalies in the game. Loss to Carolina in Game 7 of the eastern conference final a year ago still gnaws at his gut.

4. ROBERTO LUONGO

Canucks -- 0

No NHL playoff experience, but he is arguably the best netminder in the game and is a Hart Trophy candidate. Nevertheless, the only real big pressure game he has had as a pro was a semi-final win for Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup.

5. J-S GIGUERE

Ducks -- 27

18-9 / 1.95 / 5

He captured the Conn Smythe Trophy and came within one game of backstopping the Mighty Ducks to a Stanley Cup against Brodeur's Devils in 2003. Has a penchant for being brittle.

6. HENRIK LUNDQVIST

Rangers -- 3

0-3 / 4.41 / 0

Four years after Tommy Salo's Olympic gaffe against lowly Belarus, Lundqvist led Sweden to the gold medal at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. If he could survive the pressure of an entire country, he can handle this.

7. EVGENI NABOKOV

Sharks -- 35

18-15 / 2.14 / 4

The Sharks have the goods to go all the way, so the spotllght is on Nabokov to lead them there. Threat of injury always seems to linger.

8. DOMINIK HASEK

Red Wings -- 97

53-39 / 2.03 / 12

Despite his outstanding resume, The Dominator is always a prime candidate to snap, both mentally and physically. Leads the league in tears, pulls and strains. Chris Osgood had best be ready to step in.

9. MARTY TURCO

Stars -- 22

8-14 / 2.54 / 0

This guy goes under the file of: What have you done for me lately? Is great during the regular season but has the rep of folding in the playoffs, one he would dearly love to erase.

10. RAY EMERY

Senators -- 10

5-5 / 2.88 / 0

Did struggle at times during the '06 playoffs but was unfairly made the scapegoat. There were lots of players to blame for the Sens' second-round exit a year ago other than Emery, who is underrated.

11. TOMAS VOKOUN

Predators -- 6

2-4 / 2.02 / 1

Another goalie with recurring health issues. Backup Chris Mason could start for a lot of teams and might see a fair bit of action when all is said and done.

12. KARI LEHTONEN

Thrashers -- 0

Can digress from awfully good to just awful in the span of one game. Will backup Johan (Moose) Hedberg be beckoned to come in and save the day at some point?

13. MARC-ANDRE FLEURY

Penguins -- 0

Had a breakthrough season like the rest of the young Pens. Nevertheless, the lasting image in Fleury on a pressure-packed stage came in the 2004 world junior gold medal tilt when his clearing attempt bounced off teammate Braydon Coburn and into the net, giving the USA a 4-3 win over Fleury's Team Canada.

14. NIKLAS BACKSTROM

Wild -- 0

One of the surprise stories of the NHL season. Jacques Lemaire's teams don't allow many shots, so he had better make the saves when needed.

15. WADE DUBIELEWICZ

Islanders -- 0

Should he lead the underdog Islanders past the heavily favoured Sabres in the first round, he will be even more of a cult hero on the Island. He does have some momentum on his side.

16. JOHAN HOLMQVIST

Lightning -- 0

Tampa Bay John Tortorella may have to pull a Lester Patrick and put on the pads himself if his porous goaltenders don't get their acts together.


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