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NHL playoffs: Goaltending matters

Boston Bruins' goaltender Tim Thomas makes a save

Boston Bruins' goaltender Tim Thomas makes a save against the Montreal Canadiens. (April 26, 2011) Credit: AP

The aftermath of last season's race for the Stanley Cup produced an oversimplified analysis: Goaltending, always thought to be the thing that won Stanley Cups, wasn't as important as it used to be.

Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton, the starting goaltenders for the Hawks and Flyers, weren't household names, to be sure. But both were certainly playing well enough to help their teams and to matter.

The Hawks didn't bow out of the first round of this season's playoffs because they decided not to re-sign Niemi, but that didn't help. And seeing Niemi rediscover his playoff mojo with the Sharks, who go for a 3-0 series lead on the Wings tomorrow, shows that goaltending might actually still be the most important playoff factor.

Tim Thomas' 52-save performance last night in Philly to help the Bruins to a 2-0 series lead on the goalie-challenged Flyers is another reminder. Thomas, a Vezina Trophy nominee, didn't play a minute in last season's playoff run for the Bruins; now, if Boston gets through to the finals, he could win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

In fact, three of the four teams currently up 2-0 in their conference semifinal series have potential MVPs in net: Niemi, Thomas and Dwayne Roloson. If the Predators can somehow beat the Canucks, Pekka Rinne will be the reason.

Perhaps, if the Flyers can't rally on Boston the way they did last year, Philly will finally realize it's important to have a reliable, confident goaltender for the postseason. The Caps, who were barely tested by the Rangers in the first round, are also seeing what a game-changing goaltender can do; rookie Michal Neuvirth has been good, but not great, which isn't good enough in this postseason.


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