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Conference finals highlight rise of European goaltending

May 15, 2010, 5:00 PM EDT

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niemi5.jpgOne of the lingering lessons of the Olympics (for me, anyway) was how far European/non-North American goaltending has come in the last four years. Just look at the great tournament Jonas Hiller had for the Swiss national team. That trend is definitely continuing in the NHL playoffs as three of the four conference finalists feature a goalie born and trained outside of Canada.

Antti Niemi is the longest-surviving Finn now that Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins somehow managed to get reverse-swept. Evgeni Nabokov is a native of Kazakhstan and played for Team Russia. Jaroslav Halak provided steady netminding for Slovakia before he became a household name in Montreal.

Here’s more from the International Ice Hockey Federation.

But it’s interesting to note that despite Canada’s historic dominance between NHL pipes, only one of the teams that has advanced has a Canadian backup: Montreal, with Carey Price.

Supporting Nabokov is Germany’s Thomas Greiss, while Niemi is backed up by France’s Cristobal Huet. With the USA’s Brian Boucher having suffered a sprained knee, the Philadelphia Flyers are starting Canada’s Michael Leighton, with Sweden’s Johan Backlund serving as the backup.

Overall, it is less a signal that Canada’s quality of netminding has dropped off than that the rest of the world is steadily catching up, year by year.

Much like US basketball, the world is catching up to Canada on the ice but that closing gap is most evident between the pipes.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner)

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