The Year of the Goalie

Mike Smith, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist have been superb in the playoffs. Getty Images

Stop me if you've heard this before: You need a top goaltender -- or at least one who catches fire throughout the playoffs -- to carry your team to the Stanley Cup.

Sounds credible, right? Well, as goaltending is a key part of hockey, that's frequently going to be the case.

On the other hand, you don't have to think too far back to find examples where it was very much not the case. For instance, only two years ago in 2010, we saw 26-year-old rookie Antti Niemi (.910) and the Chicago Blackhawks defeat a Philadelphia Flyers team backstopped by waiver-wire pickup Michael Leighton (.916) and career backup Brian Boucher (.909). And a year prior, a hot-and-cold performance in net by Marc-Andre Fleury (.908) was just good enough to allow the Pittsburgh Penguins to raise the ultimate trophy. With each of those teams, adequate netminding was sufficient given the powerhouse squads playing in front of them.

The lesson? It's not always goaltending. There are a variety of ways to construct a Stanley Cup winner.

Last season, we certainly saw elite goaltending at its best, when regular-season GVT leader Tim Thomas carried the Boston Bruins to their first championship since 1972, blowing away the field as the postseason's most valuable player by far -- an eminently worthy Conn Smythe winner.

Thomas was key to the Bruins' success, but he's only one man. This year, elite goaltending is the theme of the entire playoffs. In fact, we can call 2012 the Year of the Goalie.