Tim Thomas tops list of Vezina Trophy finalists
Bruins netminder led NHL in goals-against average, save percentage
One goaltender led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage. A second topped the league with 10 shutouts as a rookie. And the third posted a career-high 37 wins.
Boston's Tim Thomas, Columbus's Steve Mason and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom had outstanding seasons, but only one will take home the title of Vezina Trophy winner as top goalie at the NHL awards ceremony June 18 in Las Vegas.
Thomas, 35, played a huge role in the Bruins finishing atop the Eastern Conference standings after an 82-game regular season. He fashioned a 2.10 GAA and .933 save percentage in 54 games.
"You love Thomas because of the way he persevered and hung in there in his career," said Hockey Night in Canada analyst Greg Millen. "And how he adjusted his style — he's not as active as he used to be. That's a nice story."
Mason, who is also in the running for top rookie honours with forwards Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks and Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks, had a 2.29 GAA and a .916 save percentage in 61 regular-season games.
The 20-year-old led the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance in franchise history, becoming the first rookie leader in shutouts since Tony Esposito had 15 in 1970. Mason also finished second in goals-against average (2.29).
After beginning the season recovering from knee surgery, he wrested away the starting job from Pascal Leclaire and ranked ninth in wins (33), 10th in games played and 11th in save percentage.
Ed Belfour was the last goalie to win both the Vezina and Calder trophies, achieving the feat with the Blackhawks in 1992.
Backstrom had a 2.33 GAA and a .923 save percentage while playing in 71 contests, 17 more than Thomas.
The 31-year-old ranked among the top five goaltenders in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts (eight).
Backstrom's 37 wins were a franchise record, and after playing in his first all-star game he received a four-year, $24 million US contract extension that will begin next season.
A backup netminder in the Finnish Elite League in 2006, but Backstrom said he takes these honours and awards in stride.
"You don't really think about those things," Backstrom told the Associated Press by phone from Colorado, where he's rehabilitating following hip surgery. "It's more you focus on your game and try to help your team."
The surgery showed less cartilage damage than expected, and Backstrom is on track to be at full speed in three months —about half the time it could have taken to recover.
"For sure, it was great news for me," Backstrom said.
Former NHL goalie John Garrett said he agrees with the selection of Backstrom and Thomas but not Mason.
"I think Kiprusoff is the only one missing," said Garrett, who picks Thomas to win. "He won every game his team won, except one.
"I would have had him instead of Mason. He's rookie of the year, not Vezina."
Perennial candidate Martin Brodeur, who has won the last two Vezinas,and four of the last five, didn't have a chance this season because he missed four months with a torn biceps, although he returned in time to beat Patrick Roy's all-time wins record.
Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, who missed 28 games with a groin injury, and Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff also failed to crack the top three. Kiprusoff led the league with 45 victories.
The league is to announce finalists for the Frank Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward on Tuesday, followed by finalists for the Hart Trophy Wednesday.
With files from The Canadian Press