Olympic puck stops here

By HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency

Goaltenders play a major role in whether a team succeeds or fails. It's no different at the Games.

In 2006, the Finns reached the gold medal game -- winning silver -- thanks in large part to Antero Niittymaki, who was named top goalie and MVP after leading in GAA (1.34) and save percentage (.951).

Another stellar effort in net is up for grabs when the masked men are thrusted into the Olympic spotlight when the puck drops on Feb. 16.

Here's a rundown of the top goalies for the 12 competing nations (all numbers are prior to Monday's games):

CANADA

Martin Brodeur

While many consider Brodeur as Canada's No. 1, the New Jersey goaltender has chosen a terrible time to stumble. He allowed three goals or more in his last four games, and was pulled three times in his last 15 starts. He's, however, always found a way to take it up a level when it counts.

Last 15 appearances: 6-8-1, 2.82 GAA, 2 SO.

Roberto Luongo

Having played in Vancouver the last four years, Luongo has the familiarity factor going for him. He knows the ice, he knows the ricochets off the boards, and he’s got the Lu Nation behind him. He’ll get at least one game during the round robin.

Last 15: 10-3-1 (plus a no decision), 2.40 GAA, 1 SO.

Other: Marc-Andre Fleury.

RUSSIA

Evgeni Nabokov

Offence is Russia's bread and butter, so how well will Nabokov handle the run-and gun style? He was one of the top goalies in the 2006 Olympics, posting up a 1.34 GAA and .940 save percentage.

Last 15: 10-3-2, 2.30 GAA.

Ilya Bryzgalov

The first part of his season was much better than his recent stretch but if Nabokov chokes, Bryzgalov is a solid lifeline for the Russians. Last 15: 8-5-1 (plus a no decision), 3.47 GAA, 1 SO.

Other: Semyon Varlamov.

SWEDEN

Henrik Lundqvist

King Henrik’s mediocre season is a concern for Team Sweden, who will need the Rangers goaltender to be even better than his gold-medal form in 2006 when he went 5-1 with a .907 save percentage. The Swedes don’t have many other options.

Last 15: 6-7-2, 2.68 GAA, 1 SO.

Other: Jonas Gustavsson, Stefan Liv.

UNITED STATES

Ryan Miller

After a tremendous first half to the season, the Sabres goaltender has cooled off in the last month, winning only twice in the last nine while allowing three or more goals in six of seven losses. None of the three American netminders have any Olympic experience.

Last 15: 7-6-2, 2.34 GAA.

Tim Thomas

He has one win in his last nine, and was pulled three times during that span. The reigning Vezina trophy winner has also been replaced by Tuukka Rask in Boston.

Last 15: 6-7-2, 2.96 GAA, 1 SO.

Other: Jonathan Quick.

FINLAND

Miikka Kiprusoff

Goaltending is the Finns strong suit. Kipper is currently top five amongst Olympicbound goalies in save percentage and GAA. No stranger to Vancouver ice, the Flames netminder also has a career record of 8-7-3 at GM Place (Canada Hockey Place).

Last 15: 4-7-4, 2.49 GAA.

Other: Niklas Backstrom, Antero Niittymaki.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Tomas Vokoun

Can the NHL’s third star for January bring his A-game to the Olympics? Despite losing his last three, Vokoun is still the NHL’s save percentage leader and will need to stand on his head for the Czechs to have any hopes of medaling.

Last 15:7-6-2, 1.58 GAA, 4 SO.

Other: Ondrej Pavelec, Jakub Stepanek.

SLOVAKIA

Jaroslav Halak

He’s slowly winning the No. 1 job in Montreal and will likely be the main goalie for the Slovaks, but it’s a mystery as to how the inexperienced 24-year-old will perform in pressure situations.

Last 15: 9-4-2, 2.24 GAA, 2 SO.

Other: Peter Budaj, Rastislav Stana.

THE REST

The No. 1s for the remaining countries: Jonas Hiller (Switzerland), Thomas Greiss (Germany), Andrei Mezin (Belarus), Pal Grotnes (Norway), Edgars Masalskis (Latvia).

POLL