Ranking the playoff goaltenders

4/8/2008 - NHL

When you look through the Stanley Cup record book, you'll notice some championship teams won it all with an overpowering offense, and others did it with a stifling defense. But the one constant always has been great goaltending.

From Hap Holmes in 1917 to Jean-Sebastien Giguere last June, every Cup team has counted on a superlative performance between the pipes. So who will be that savior this postseason? We rank the goalies heading into the playoffs.

16. Martin Gerber/Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators
Martin Gerber has been to the Stanley Cup finals with three different teams (Anaheim, Carolina and Ottawa). Too bad he's been a spectator for most of it. The 33-year-old has had a losing record since January and has started only two career playoff games. Still, Gerber is the No. 1 option for the Senators, who have lost faith in last season's playoff hero, Ray Emery. The enigmatic 25-year-old has struggled all season, allowing four or more goals in six of his past 12 starts. While he is still talented enough to win big games, many doubt Emery's heart and head are where they need to be to help the Sens make a run this season.

15. Martin Biron, Philadelphia Flyers
When requesting a trade from the Buffalo Sabres last season, Martin Biron said he wanted to be the No. 1 goalie that could lead a team into the playoffs. Now, he will get his chance. The 30-year-old Biron has been great at times, but consistency is still his biggest issue. Biron's record is 15-10-5 since Jan. 1, allowing four goals or more eight times over that span. In the playoffs, there is no margin for error, so if Biron has one of his off nights, it will spell trouble for the Flyers, who haven't advanced past the first round since 2003-04. Backup Antero Niittymaki has played 73 minutes of NHL playoff hockey, but he did win a Calder Cup under Flyers coach John Stevens three seasons ago.

14. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Fourteen years after being drafted and six years after making his first NHL start, Tim Thomas finally will play in his first playoff game. This year, he proved to be a solid, sometimes spectacular, No. 1 goalie, winning 28 games with a .921 save percentage. Thomas, especially in the last few weeks of the regular season, played a key role in helping the Bruins lock up a playoff spot for the first time since the lockout. He will need to be even better if Boston wants to get past the first round. Backup Alex Auld, 27, has some playoff experience (one win in four games); but, if he's getting the call, you know the B's are in trouble.

13. Dan Ellis/Chris Mason, Nashville Predators
Behind the shadow of that sensational rookie goalie in Montreal is another fine first-year netminder named Dan Ellis. He made 13 starts in March, including a franchise-record 233-minute, 39-second shutout streak, the fifth longest in the modern era. The Predators hope Ellis, who leads the league in save percentage, can continue his magic into the postseason. If Ellis falters, Chris Mason will get the call, and that could mean trouble considering he's made just two starts (both losses) in the last six weeks. Mason has just one win in five career playoff starts.

12. Jose Theodore, Colorado Avalanche
At 31, Jose Theodore has finally started to resemble the goalie who won the Hart Trophy in 2002. Theodore has the most wins and best save percentage and goals-against average he's had since 2004. He's allowed more than three goals only three times in his past 20 starts. Still, it's unrealistic to expect Theodore to showcase the same ability he displayed in 2002. In the brutally competitive Western Conference, he will need to do just that if the Avs want to make a long playoff run.

11. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
The most intriguing goaltender this postseason resides in Montreal. Carey Price, 20, will be called on to do what other Habs rookie goalies have done -- win a Stanley Cup. In 1971, Ken Dryden not only led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup, but also picked up the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In 1986, Patrick Roy duplicated the feat at age 20. So far, Price has been on the money for Montreal. The NHL's rookie of the month in March led the Habs to their first division title in 16 years, showing he has the mental toughness and ability to take this Montreal team deep in the postseason. Don't forget, Price led the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup last season, winning the playoff MVP honors along the way.

10. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames
For the third straight season, Miikka Kiprusoff started more than 70 games. The question is, Has he started to wear down? The numbers say yes. Kiprusoff ranks outside the top 25 in both GAA and save percentage. Those are alarming stats for a goalie who won the Vezina Trophy in 2006. Also, Flames coach Mike Keenan pulled Kiprusoff eight times this season, so you have to wonder if confidence has become an issue. On the upside, when Kiprusoff is hot, there is none better. He had three winning streaks of at least four games. Everyone knows he can win big games. Another hot run and the Flames could burn their way through the West.

9. Marty Turco, Dallas Stars
It seems weird to have a goalie this good be so far down the rankings. Turco is one of the game's streakiest goalies, and he thrives in the spotlight. The two-time NCAA champ at Michigan had a four- and five-game winning streak this season and, at times, single-handedly carried the Stars to victory. But fatigue is a concern, as Turco has won just three of his past 12 starts since March 1. His brilliant puck-handling ability is a huge asset for the Stars. His career 11-18 playoff record is baffling considering he has a respectable 2.21 career postseason GAA.

8. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
Loved by Wild fans, but mostly ignored by the media, second-year standout Niklas Backstrom is proving he is a top-tier NHL goalie. The Finn won his last four starts, allowing four goals combined over that span, to help Minnesota take the Northwest Division title. Backstrom is one of three goalies (along with Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Martin Brodeur) to finish within the top three in wins, GAA and save percentage. Backstrom got his feet wet last postseason, but the Wild lost to Anaheim in five games in the first round. Now, he needs to prove he can win against the best teams -- Backstrom was a disappointing 10-11-5 versus playoff teams during the regular season.

7. Cristobal Huet, Washington Capitals
It didn't go down as the flashiest move at the trade deadline, but maybe it was the smartest as Capitals GM George McPhee stole away Huet from the Montreal Canadiens for a second-round draft pick. Nothing motivates professional athletes like a new contract, and Huet is playing for one right now. Since coming to Washington, he has an 11-2-0 record and 1.63 GAA. Huet has won his past nine starts, though only two of those games were against playoff teams. Now, the real test begins. Can Huet, who has never won a playoff series, carry the NHL's hottest team on a run? If not, Olaf Kolzig is one of the best and most experienced backups, having led the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals a decade ago.

6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
Few goalies are as hot right now as Marc-Andre Fleury. The former No. 1 draft pick returned March 2 after missing three months with a severely sprained ankle. Since then, he's won 10 of 13 starts, allowing more than two goals just once. Fleury struggled last postseason, but he should be rested (only 34 starts) and ready to showcase his true talent this spring. If Fleury struggles or suffers an injury, that's a problem for the Penguins, as Ty Conklin's magic appears to have disappeared. (He lost four of his past five starts with a 4.00 GAA.)

5. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
When this guy is good, he's unbeatable. A league-best 10 shutouts has Rangers fans excited about their chances with "King Henrik" between the pipes. At just 26, Lundqvist has proved he can win the big games against the best players. In 2006, he led Sweden to the gold medal at the Torino Olympics. Last season, he led the Rangers to the second round with a 2.07 postseason GAA. This time around, he hopes to shine again on hockey's grandest stage. Don't be surprised if he does.

4. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks
One of the front-runners to win the Vezina Trophy, Nabokov has been a pillar of strength this season, leading the league in wins and mastering an aggressive style that often frustrates shooters. His size and quickness helped him to the third best GAA this season, and the former rookie of the year has had some playoff success, including taking the Sharks to the 2004 Western Conference finals. Don't be surprised if the All-Star goalie can go one step further this spring and lead the Sharks to the Stanley Cup finals.

3. Dominik Hasek/Chris Osgood, Detroit Red Wings
No team has a one-two punch in net like the Detroit Red Wings. With more than 100 playoff wins combined and each having previously led Detroit to Stanley Cups, Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood's experience is a big plus. The 43-year-old Hasek has looked shaky at times this season, but still ranks within the top five in league GAA. The two-time MVP is the Wings' No. 1 goalie to start the postseason, but if he stumbles, Osgood is a more-than-capable replacement. The 35-year-old Osgood led the league in GAA and was the NHL's best to start the season. No team allowed fewer goals than the Wings this season, and goaltending is a big reason why.

2. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim Ducks
It has been an injury-plagued season for the defending Stanley Cup-winning goalie. The latest problem, back spasms, caused him to miss four games. But, somehow, he has still been able to put together one of his best seasons. Despite starting only 57 games, Giguere has been spectacular. Since the beginning of February, he's won 14 of 18 starts with a 1.43 GAA and only twice allowed more than two goals in a game. It looks like the former playoff MVP is again ready to drive shooters crazy at the most important time of the year.

1. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
At 35, Brodeur is still the best there is, arguably the best ever. This season, he ranks within the top five in games played, GAA, save percentage and wins. With a 1.92 career postseason GAA, including three Stanley Cups, there is no one better at this time of year. Of the 16 playoff teams, only Anaheim has scored fewer goals, so Brodeur will need to be perfect this postseason. He usually is.

ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.