Who will hoist the Cup?
TUUKKA'S TIME IS NOW
No one can ever take away what Tim Thomas did to help carry his team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011.
Thomas was unworldly at times in the playoffs, making saves that made him seem as if he had eyes on the back of his head or possessed psychic abilities to know where the puck would be. Thomas rightly earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs MVP, going 16-9 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
But Tuukka Rask, Thomas' backup during that playoff run, is currently playing slightly better than Thomas did then, in the opinion of this hockey scribe. Rask is 12-4 in 16 postseason starts, with a 1.75 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. Even better, he has his team in the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three seasons.
Rask is doing it in a manner that's much different from Thomas' as an NHL goalie. Last week, Bruins head coach Claude Julien described Rask as "normal" when asked what makes him different from other goalies in general and Thomas in particular.
"Tuukka's normal, really. And you know what, I'm not going to get into Timmy," Julien said with a laugh. "I'm just saying Tuukka is normal like when I say normal as I've ever seen in a goaltender, I could talk to him during periods and go talk to him about a couple of things. I wouldn't dare do that with any other goaltender I've had in the past. ... So that's Tuukka. Very relaxed but you've seen the other side of him when things don't go his way, he's got a temper. That to me is normal."
And that is why it may be hard to realize that Rask is playing better than Thomas did in 2011. Rask makes it look easy while Thomas was making saves look extraordinary. Rask is calm and collected, and his demeanor is rubbing off on his teammates as they seem to be unfazed by anything right now.
These numbers might say it all: Rask gave up just two total goals in a four-game sweep of the Penguins, the top offensive team in the NHL.
TIMMY IS STILL TOPS
In fact, it's a shame he wasn't nominated for the Vezina Trophy this season because if his current success rate continues, he could be in line for a Conn Smythe Trophy if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup.
There's no denying his numbers. But before we can claim that Rask's performance is superior to former teammate Tim Thomas' during the 2011 Stanley Cup run, let's wait to pass judgment until the season is over.
What Thomas was able to accomplish two seasons ago will forever stand out as one of the greatest postseason goaltending performances. At age 36, Thomas won four straight series and posted four shutouts in 25 playoff games. Rask has won three series thus far to get to the Cup finals, with two shutouts in 16 games.
Comparing each of the first 15 playoff games of their respective postseasons in question, Thomas held a .932 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA, while Rask's .940 and 1.88 were better.
But here's the X factor as to why Thomas' run is better: He won three Game 7s in 2011, including a 4-0 shutout over the Vancouver Canucks on the road to win the Cup.
Rask has had an easier go of it so far. Yes, he did win Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. But he beat the Rangers in five games, and then helped the Bruins sweep the Penguins in four games in the Eastern Conference finals. The Bruins' postseason experience is also helping Rask, as Boston is playing a sound team game in front of him, especially defensively.
Outside of Boston, Rask has been underappreciated, no doubt about it. Expect that to change if he leads the Bruins to another Cup, and then the Tuukka versus Timmy debate becomes interesting. For right now, I still give Thomas the nod.