No. 4: One of the low points of the calendar year 2007 for the Boston Bruins was that their $4.5 million acquisition, Manny Fernandez, had to undergo season-ending knee surgery in December.

Acquired to give the Bruins the No. 1 netminder they’d always desired (but didn’t realize they already had in Tim Thomas), Fernandez became a non-factor in the franchise’s resurrection under new head coach Claude Julien.

But this story of disappointment turned to one of triumph in the second half of ’08 and Fernandez’s return to form and his combining with Thomas to give the Bruins the best goaltender tandem in the NHL earned its spot among the top 10 stories of the year.Prior to his acquisition by Boston and the start of his injury woes, Fernandez put up a 22-16-1 record with a 2.55 goals-against average for Minnesota in 2006-07. He landed in Boston still nursing his knee problem and his early attempts to play regularly failed until he succumbed to the knife. Although he was almost healthy enough to play by the playoffs, the Bruins were eliminated before Julien had to make any difficult goaltender decisions.

Heading into the 2008-09 season, Fernandez’s health still loomed over the Bruins’ heads as a possible hindrance to their ascension to a higher part of the Eastern Conference than they’d reached last season. Fernandez dedicated himself to getting on the ice every moment he could in the offseason — even attending the Bruins’ rookie camp in July. He did enough during training camp to earn a share of the starting job when the regular season opened, and since the drop of the first puck he and Thomas have become the best pair of goaltenders at the game’s highest level.

As he’s gained confidence, Fernandez has thrived. His shutout of Florida in early December announced he was back in form. And his most recent performance in a 2-1 win at Atlanta was vintage Fernandez. His 12-2-1 record, .930 save percentage and 2.02 GAA have him among the league’s leaders. Plus his willingness to share time with Thomas — despite his phenomenal numbers — and not become a problem in the dressing room has been one of the top two reasons Boston’s been at the top of the conference since early on.

Goaltending is so vital to a team’s success, and with a healthy and productive Fernandez available to man the crease the Bruins seem destined for better things in ’09 than they achieved in ’08.