In the NHL Playoffs, It's All About Your Goalie

↵Over the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there have been more than a few goaltenders who have managed to steal a series or two for their team -- witness Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson in 2006 -- or even the Cup itself when the rest of the lineup seemed hardly deserving -- such as when Patrick Roy carried the rest of the Montreal Canadiens on his back on the way to winning the title in 1986. ↵

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↵So if you want to get a quick idea of which way the wind is blowing in each of the playoff series that begin on Wednesday night, you'd be well served by taking a hard look at the men standing in between the pipes.   ↵

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↵EASTERN CONFERENCE ↵

↵No. 1 Boston (Tim Thomas) vs. No. 8 Montreal (Carey Price/Jaroslav Halak): If it weren't bad enough that the Bruins can roll four forward lines more effectively than just about any team in the league outside San Jose and Detroit, and that they boast one of the most potent defenders in all of hockey, it's impossible to ignore that their goalie is coming off a Vezina-caliber season. While his style might not look pretty, it's plenty effective. As for Montreal, Price still has to be smarting from a less than stellar performance in last year's tournament as well as a lackluster regular season. If he falters, expect Bob Gainey to exercise a quick hook in favor of Halak. EDGE: Boston. ↵

↵No. 2 Washington (Jose Theodore) vs. No. 7 New York (Henrik Lundqvist): The Rangers don't have one skater on their roster that can compare talent-wise with Washington's top four of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. But the one man on the Rangers roster who clearly belongs in the same sentence with those four superstars is Lundqvist. Combined with the league's best penalty kill, Lundqvist represents the Rangers' best chance to win a series that looks like an uphill climb. And while Theodore has been solid for long stretches of the season, questions remain about his ability to carry a team through the playoffs. EDGE: New York. ↵

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↵No. 3 New Jersey (Martin Brodeur) vs. No. 6 Carolina (Cam Ward): You'd think that a three-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie would automatically have an advantage in a series against just about any opponent, but the last time Brodeur faced Ward, the Hurricanes dismissed the Devils in five games on their way to the Stanley Cup in 2006. If Ward did it once -- and his performance down the stretch this season indicates he's got his mojo back -- he can do it again. EDGE: Push. ↵

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↵No. 4 Pittsburgh (Marc-Andre Fleury) vs. No. 5 Philadelphia (Martin Biron): For this rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, part of me thinks the most significant difference between this year and last has to be the absence of Marian Hossa from the Penguins lineup -- something that will make Biron's life a whole lot easier. EDGE: Push. ↵

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↵WESTERN CONFERENCE ↵

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↵No. 1 San Jose (Evgeni Nabokov) vs. No. 8 Anaheim (Jean-Sebastien Giguere/Jonas Hiller): While Nabokov is more than good enough to steal a game or a series for a team, he's rarely played behind such a deep lineup, an ideal situation for a time of year when teams traditionally tighten up anyway. As for Anaheim, will the real Giguere please stand up? Will we see the MVP of the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the steady hand who helped the Ducks to their first Cup in 2007, or will Randy Carlyle tire of the inconsistency and see just how far the Ducks can go with Hiller in net? EDGE: San Jose. ↵

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↵No. 2 Detroit (Chris Osgood/Ty Conklin) vs. No. 7 Columbus (Steve Mason): Ask any Red Wings fan if he'd like to trade his team's goalie tandem of Osgood and Conklin straight up for presumptive Calder Trophy winner Mason, and I don't think you'd find anyone who wouldn't take the deal. Any and all hope for an upset by Columbus starts with Mason, who had 10 shutouts behind one of the most defensively responsible teams in the league. As for Detroit, Osgood was suspect all season, and while Conklin was more than adequate, do we really believe that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't remember Conklin's epic meltdown in the 2006 Finals against Carolina? EDGE: Columbus -- and it's not even close. ↵

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↵No. 3 Vancouver (Roberto Luongo) vs. No. 6 St. Louis (Chris Mason): For too many seasons Luongo was locked away from most of the rest of the hockey world in South Florida, an address from which he was never able to visit the postseason. But now in his third season with the Canucks, he's playing behind the best lineup he's been a part of his entire career. When Luongo is on, he's otherworldly. As for Mason, he proved more than adequate for the job over the course of his career and is a big reason behind the late-season surge in St. Louis (21-7-5, 2.20 GAA since February 3). But he's not Luongo. EDGE: Vancouver. ↵

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↵No. 4 Chicago (Nikolai Khabibulin) vs. No. 5 Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff): Here's another series that's shaping up to be a brutal test for both teams, and also represents a rematch of sorts. The last time goalies faced each other in a playoff series was the seven-game 2004 Finals where they couldn't have been much closer statistically. Today, Kiprusoff is Calgary's workhorse, while Khabibulin split time with pricey free-agent pickup Cristobal Huet. Khabibulin ll be fresher, and that will make all the difference. EDGE: Chicago. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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