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Henrik Lundqvist (left) and Tim Thomas

Henrik “The King” Lundqvist and Tim “The Tank” Thomas are arguably the two best goaltenders in the National Hockey League right now. Lundqvist has long been the backbone of the New York Rangers. Anyone who sits down to watch a Rangers game on television will quickly get used to hearing the phrase “Save! By Lundqvist!” The Swedish netminder has been the starter in New York for the past seven years, and he’s led them to the playoffs five of the past six years (and will likely lead them into the playoff again this year). He’s also been named the Rangers’ team MVP for the past five seasons. Tim Thomas is the Bruins’ undersized but overly talented goaltender. In 2010-11, Thomas won both the Vezina Trophy (Best goaltender) and Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP) awards en route to leading the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 29 years. So, which of these two franchise netminders is the best? The King? Or the Tank?

By the Numbers:
Henrik Lundqvist
452 games played; 243 wins, 149 losses, 53 overtime losses, 43 shootout losses.
54% career win percentage, 92.1 save percentage, 2.26 goals against average.

Tim Thomas
361 games played; 187 wins, 115 losses, 44 overtime losses, 30 shootout losses.
52% career win percentage, 92.2 save percentage, 2.46 goals against average.

[Note: All statistics current as of March 1st, 2012]
The Case for Lundqvist
He is a model of consistency, and truly the last line of defense for a Rangers team that hasn’t always supported Lundqvist with capable offense, defense or even a steady backup. He’s been team MVP of the Rangers for the past five years. He’s started at least 68 games each of the past five seasons (not counting 2011-12, since the year has yet to finish), and he’s won at least 35 games in each of the past four seasons (and he’s never won fewer than 30 games in a season). He has a career save percentage of .921, and a career goals-against average of 2.26, far better than Thomas’ 2.46. Lundqvist has also proven himself on the international level. He’s been the starting goaltender for Sweden’s national hockey team in each of the past two Olympic Games, and he led them to a gold medal in the 2006 Olympics.

The Case for Thomas
Lundqvist may have been the Rangers MVP, but Tim Thomas has some more impressive hardware. Tim Thomas has twice won the Vezina Trophy, first in 2009 and again in 2011. He’s won a Stanley Cup Championship and a Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s MVP, as he set a Stanley Cup final record with only eight goals allowed in seven games, and a .967 save percentage. He was part of the 2010 United States Olympic team, backing up Ryan Miller on a team that came away with a silver medal. Thomas also holds the NHL record for save percentage in a season, as he set the mark in 2011 with a 93.8 percentage.

The Case against Lundqvist
He doesn’t have the kind of awards and championships that Thomas has. Lundqvist has never won a Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, or a Stanley Cup. He’s also struggled mightily in the playoffs, never advancing past the second round. As good as Lundqvist is during the regular season, his postseason resume (15-20, .909 save percentage, 2.60 goals against average)leaves much to be desired.

The Case against Thomas
As great as he’s been recently, Thomas has actually been quite inconsistent over the course of his career. Between his two Vezina seasons, he posted a horrible 17-18-8-5 record, with a .915 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average . Before 2009, he had only one 30-win season (2006-07), and even that year wasn’t very good (30-29-4-3, .905 save percentage, 3.13 goals against average). He’s also had the benefit of having a great backup, as he’s never had to start more than 57 games in a season since 2007, unlike Lundqvist, who has had to grind out at least 68 games each season in that same time span.

Final Verdict
Like most of our Versus feature articles, the final verdict is closely contested. Each contender has great merits to his name. Lundqvist is a model of elite consistency, resilience and reliability, while being the workhorse for his team in net. Thomas is a record-setting, trophy and championship winning netminder. However, the fact that Lundvist has been playing at an elite level for longer and with great consistency gives him the edge. The Rangers have always relied on him to start at least 68 games a season, something Thomas has only ever done once in his career. Lundqvist cannot falter, or the Rangers will falter, and despite that pressure, Lundqvist has always delivered, never winning fewer than 30 games in a season. His career numbers are better than Thomas’, and while both goaltenders are undoubtedly elite, Lundqvist’ consistent play at a high level is what sets him apart.
Winner: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers.

By lead columnist Arun Morace


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