Ranking the playoff goaltenders

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:39 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - Behind that infectious, gleaming, toothy smile that has become his trademark, Marc-Andre Fleury knew he was being mocked.

No matter what he did, no matter how well he played, no matter how many eye-popping numbers he posted, Fleury would always be ridiculed for his screwup in the 2004 world junior title game, one in which his ill-fated clearing attempt bounced off Patrick O’Sullivan and into the Canadian net, giving the U.S. the gold medal.

Last spring, one save put a stop to all the jokes.

A save of a lifetime.

With the Penguins just two seconds away from the Stanley Cup, Fleury flung his body across the crease to rob Detroit Red Wings superstar Nicklas Lidstrom, preserving Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win in Game 7 of the 2009 final.

“To that point, I was probably known as the guy who scored on his own net,” Fleury laughed, referring to his world junior faux pas in ’04.

“Not after that stop, though.

“I just remember seeing the puck go to Lidstrom, who had a lot of net. I said “Uh oh” and just dove across. Luckily it hit my chest.”

And with that thud, a legend was born.

One year later, which NHL goalie will emerge as the playoff hero.

This much is certain: Inexperience rules the day in the 2010 post-season. Consider that seven of the 16 starting goalies in the first round — Brian Elliott, Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard and Antii Niemi - have never played a single minute in the NHL post-season.

“It’s tough if you haven’t been here before because the playoffs are just so intense,” Fleury said. “I know my previous experience helped me last year.”

Without further ado, here is a look at our annual goaltending rankings for the upcoming post-season.

1. Ryan Miller

Sabres

Playoff Appearances: 34

W-L: 20-14

GAA: 2.40

SO: 1

Should be the Vezina Trophy winner as the regular-season’s top goalie. A Conn Smythe trophy and a Stanley Cup ring would complete an impressive triple crown. Fleury and Brodeur are in the mix, but we’ll go with the hot hand.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury

Penguins

Playoff Appearances: 49

W-L: 31-18

GAA: 2.45

SO: 3

Remember the ’08 Stanley Cup final when he wiped out while stepping on to the Joe Louis Arena ice surface for

Game 1? He was laughed at. After beating the Wings for the Cup one year later, it’s The Flower who is laughing now.

3. Martin Brodeur

Devils

Playoff Appearances: 176

W-L: 98-78

GAA: 1.98

SO: 23

We’ve heard the insinuations. That he’s on the downside of his career. That he’s winding down. Blah blah blah. The truth is, he was among the league leader in wins and has hoisted the Cup three times. There’s still something left in the tank.

4. Roberto Luongo

Canucks

Playoff Appearances: 22

W-L: 11-11

GAA: 2.09

SO: 1

Winning gold in Vancouver probably gave him confidence. It had better, especially with the way he imploded against the Blackhawks last post-season.

5. Evgeni Nabokov

Sharks

Playoff Appearances: 65

W-L: 32-31

GAA: 2.23

SO: 6

Ever since his meltdown against Canada at the Olympics, the veteran has been a car wreck. Has the rep of becoming wobbly in the Stanley Cup dance.

6. Ilya Bryzgalov

Coyotes

Playoff Appearances: 16

W-L: 9-5

GAA: 1.68

SO: 3

Should get Hart Trophy consideration as league MVP. Don’t forget that he was an outstanding fill-in for J-S Giguere during the Ducks Stanley Cup run of 2007.

7. Jose Theodore

Capitals

Playoff Appearances: 49

W-L: 19-27

GAA: 2.79

SO: 1

We thought he was done. Shame on us. Whether he plays behind an offensive juggernaut or not, the fact that he didn’t lose since January is huge. Should he falter, Semyon Varlamov (13 GP, 7-6, 2.53, 2) is a worthy fill-in.

8. Antii Niemi

Blackhawks

Playoff Appearances: O

Among the gaggle of goaltenders this year who have absolutely zero NHL playoff experience. The fact that he plays for such a quality team puts him this high on our list. If he breaks down, veteran Cristobal Huet (16 GP, 6-10, 2.73, 0) is an adequate stop gap.

9. Jimmy Howard

Red Wings

Playoff Appearances: 0

Like Niemi, part of his ranking has to do with playing wit a talented team. Deserves kudos for playing his way into Calder contention. If the Wings won all those Cups with Chris Osgood between the pipes, you’d like the think Howard gives them a legit shot too.

10. Craig Anderson

Avs

Playoff Appearances: 0

Might have been the hottest goaltender through the first three months of the season. The rest of the way? Not so much. Because he’ll be facing the No. 1 seed in the west, he’ll have to be on his toes.

11. Tuukka Rask

Bruins

Playoff Appearances: 0

Maple Leaf fans continue to cry in their overpriced Air Canada Centre beers at the awful 2006 deal that shipped Rask to Beantown for Andrew Raycroft. Despite having the NHL’s best goals-against average during the regular season, his biggest post-season problem: No offence.

12. Jonathan Quick

Kings

Playoff Appearances: 0

The young Kings are primed to produce an upset special in the first round, and Quick stands to be a major reason why. His inclusion to the U.S. Olympic team is an indication of his potential.

13. Pekka Rinne

Predators

Playoff Appearances: 0

Might be the best goaltender no one knows about. Unfortunately for him, he shares the same predicament as Tuukka Rask — a pop-gun offence that struggles to score.

14. Brian Elliott

Senators

Playoff Appearances: 0

Probably should be higher on the list. But, given the fact he’ll be facing Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, Staal and Guerin in the first round, well, he might be advised to start practising standing on his head.

15. Jaroslav Halak

Canadiens

Playoff Appearances: 3

W-L: 0-1

GAA: 1.86

SO: 0

On the downward slide recently. During his team’s three-game losing funk to finish the regular campaign, several goals that beat Halak had a distinct odour to them.

16. Brian Boucher

Flyers

Playoff Appearances: 22

W-L: 11-8

GAA: 2.06

SO: 1

Yes, we know he outplayed the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist in a shootout Sunday to get the Flyers into the post-season. But sooner or later, the cracks in his armour will be exposed.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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