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Vezina Trophy Finalists: Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Henrik Lundqvist vs. Antti Niemi

The NHL announced on Wednesday that Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks are the three finalists for the 2012-13 Vezina Trophy, which is awarded “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position,” as voted on by the League’s 30 general managers.

Getty ImagesThis is the first time all three Vezina finalists were born and trained in Europe, according to Adam Kimelman of NHL.com.

One imagines the first runner-up for the Vezina also was European: Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, who had nearly identically numbers to Lundqvist save for games played, which is typically a vital number for the GMs in determining a Vezina candidate.

Also snubbed: Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, who split too much time with Ray Emery for either to make the cut; Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks; Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings; and Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators, who might have been the best goalie in the NHL this season but was limited to 24 games due to injury.

Who wins the Vezina?

Why Sergei Bobrovsky Deserves The Vezina

The NHL says:

Bobrovsky (21-11-6, 2.00 goals-against average, .932 save percentage, four shutouts) backstopped Columbus' late-season surge that kept the club in contention for a playoff berth until the final moments of the season. The first-time Vezina finalist appeared in all but one of the Blue Jackets' franchise-record 12-game point streak (8-0-4) from Feb. 26 through Mar. 22 that spurred the club's move up the standings. He won eight of his last nine decisions from April 9-27, posting a 1.64 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in that span. He ranked second among NHL goaltenders in save percentage and sixth in goals-against average.

Bobrovsky was the primary reason the Blue Jackets got within sniffing distance of the playoffs, playing Hasek-ian in goal and winning games on his own. It's fair to say he did the most with the least, and his numbers were remarkably better than those of former backup Steve Mason. It was a dominant run – but is it more the stuff a Hart Trophy candidate or a Vezina winner?

Why Henrik Lundqvist Deserves The Vezina

The NHL says:

Lundqvist, the reigning Vezina winner, tied for the NHL lead in wins, posting a 24-16-3 record with a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He also tied for the League lead in starts (43), ranked fifth in save percentage and seventh in goals-against average. He posted his eighth consecutive 20-win season, the longest current streak among active goaltenders. Lundqvist helped clinch his seventh trip to the playoffs in eight NHL seasons by allowing two goals or fewer in 16 of his last 20 games, going 13-5-2 with a 1.77 GAA and .935 save percentage in that span. He is a Vezina finalist for the fifth time, finishing first in 2012 and third from 2006 through 2008.

Lundqvist also led both of his other finalists with a .760 save percentage in the shootout, which is oddly ignored in the NHL’s descriptions of Vezina candidates, as if they’re somehow embarrassed by it …

Hank was at his best in the second half of the season, providing the backbone the Rangers needed in a tough playoff race on the Eastern Conference bubble. Like Bobrovsky, as much an MVP type as a Vezina type – but he has the Blue Jackets keeper beat in games played and wins.

Why Antti Niemi Deserve The Vezina

The NHL says:

Niemi shared the NHL lead in starts (43), saw more ice time than any other goaltender (2,580:46) and ranked third in shots faced (1,220) and saves (1,127). He helped the Sharks post the League's sixth-best defensive record (2.33 goals-against per game) by going 24-12-6 with a 2.16 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and four shutouts, tying for first place in wins and placing seventh in save percentage. Niemi is a Vezina finalist for the first time and is the fourth Finland native in the past seven seasons to make the top three, joining Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom and Nashville's Pekka Rinne.

Niemi had a sneaky great year, and it’s fantastic to see that effort honored with a Vezina nomination. Of the three candidates, Niemi also had the best shorthanded save percentage (.883).

Who Wins The Vezina?

Bobrovsky. Yes, the fact that Lundqvist is the only Eastern Conference nominee makes us a little nervous about those 15 GMs all going for their conference’s top netminder. But keep in mind that a vote for Bob is a vote to embarrass the Philadelphia Flyers; hence it wouldn’t surprise us to see even Glen Sather backing the Blue Jacket.

Who Should Win The Vezina?

Bobrovsky. Lundqvist and Niemi are both worthy of the nominations, but Bobrovsky was something special this season. To accomplish what he did on a team many had pegged for a large number of draft lottery ping-pong balls is extraordinary.

And, frankly, to win the Vezina would be extraordinary too

Look at the trophy’s winners since the Jennings Trophy split from it in 1982. By are count, none of them were from non-playoff teams. Bobrovsky has a chance to make a little history here … oh, yeah: There’s also the fact no Russian netminder has ever won the award, either.

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