Arguably the most important position on a hockey team, the role of the goaltender is not one to be taken lightly (right, Ilya Bryzgalov?). While the team itself has it's own story of how it got to the playoffs, there is a spotlight shining - at times blindingly - in the blue paint.
In this edition, we present the tales of the goaltenders of the Western Conference.
(Click here for the Eastern Conference storylines)
St. Louis Blues - Jaroslav Halak
Wins/SO: 26, 6
Signed in 2010 after his Cup run with the Canadiens, Halak didn't really hit his stride until Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench for the Blues. The new coach's defensive style provided Halak - and backup and co-Jennings winner Brian Elliott - the defence necessary to rack up a league-high shutout count (15). The problem is Elliott has the hot glove hand (so to speak), picking up three straight shutouts near the end of the season.
Just who will get the nod of the two net minders is something only Hitchcock knows for sure.
Burning question: As nice as it is to have two capable goalies, who will Hitchcock deem the starter, and if there is a rough patch - will they get the opportunity to play themselves out of trouble?
Vancouver Canucks - Roberto Luongo
Wins/SO: 31, 5
An Olympic gold-medal winner in 2010, one game away from the Stanley Cup in 2011, but Roberto Luongo still has people questioning whether or not he's a 'big game' goalie. This year saw an increased amount of starts for backup Cory Schneider, doing little to clear that up. Especially with Canucks fans cheering after he was yanked in a 5-4 shootout win over the Ducks at the end of the year. This may be the year Luongo defines his Canucks' legacy, for better or for worse.
Burning question: Will he get every start for his team in the playoffs, and if not do the Canucks have enough faith in Luongo to let Schneider walk in free agency?
Los Angeles Kings - Jonathan Quick
Wins/SO: 35, 10
On a team bereft of goals for most of the season, Jonathan Quick was the only thing standing between another year on the outside of playoffs looking in. The Kings were involved in nine games ending in a 1-0 score, six of which they were on the losing end. Hard to blame the goaltender who posted 10 shutouts and helped keep the Kings near the top of the league in goals allowed (2nd, 2.02) while the team was at the bottom of the goals scored per game (29th, 2.26).
Burning question: Can Quick hold the Kings' opponents to under two goals per game?
Nashville Predators - Pekka Rinne
Wins/SO: 43, 5
One of the 'new' models of goalies through the NHL ranks, Pekka Rinne. He's played in 73 games this season, tied for 1st in the league overall and tops amongst goalies heading into the playoffs. Will rest be a factor? Also - he gave his low-scoring team a chance against offensive juggernauts last year by stealing games, this year's squad just might have the offensive punch needed to help him out.
Burning question: Will the team's additions at the trade deadline be enough to lighten the load Rinne bears?
Detroit Red Wings - Jimmy Howard
Wins/SO: 35, 6
When you talk about the Detroit Red Wings, there are probably 18 other players that come up in conversation before Jimmy Howard's name is uttered. Nothing against the 28-year-old goalie, it seems to just fit the model of the Chris Osgood era - nothing flashy, just solid when he was needed to be. A late-season injury sidelined him, but he got back into a rhythm, playing in five games before the end of the regular season.
Howard's numbers are also nothing to sneeze at, sitting 5th in the league in GAA for goalies that appeared in 37 games or more.
Burning question: Is he healthy enough?
Chicago Blackhawks - Corey Crawford
Wins/SO: 30, 0
Following the Hawks' Cup in 2010, they jettisoned the guy that got them there and turned, eventually, to Corey Crawford. Splitting time this season with Ray Emery, the duo haven't set the world on fire, relying on Chicago's formidable offence to shoulder the load.
Burning question: Will Crawford prove the goaltending in Chicago is more than an afterthought at a time when the spotlight shines hardest on a goaltender?
San Jose Sharks - Antti Niemi
Wins/SO: 34, 6
Does any other goalie come to mind that has found himself looking for work the season following a Stanley Cup win? Niemi joined the Sharks and helped them through to the West final last season before the oft-underachieving club fell to the Canucks. This year, a re-jigged squad found itself in the new position of fighting for a playoff spot until the very twilight of the regular season.
Burning question: Can Niemi backstop the club into its 1st ever Stanley Cup final?
Phoenix Coyotes - Mike Smith
Wins/SO: 38, 8
May have single-handedly kept the team in the hunt through a miraculous February (11-0-0) and near the deadline, a 54-save shutout against the Blue Jackets that gave them a crucial two points to cement their playoff berth. Not too shabby for a goalie denied a starter's job in his last two stops with the Stars and Lightning.
Burning question: Can Smith hoist the Coyotes past the 1st round for the first time since the team arrived in Arizona?
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