PITTSBURGH – Parallels have been made between Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas over the last couple of days because A) they were teammates just a season ago and B) Rask’s statistics are remarkably similar to Thomas’ numbers at this point in Boston’s Stanley Cup run two years ago.
But that’s really where comparison ends.
The 9-4-1 record, the .933 save percentage and the 2.06 goals against average for Rask 13 games into his playoff run dovetailed nicely with his first shutout of the playoffs in Boston's 3-0 win over the Penguins on Saturday night. But that performance wasn’t making any Bruins immediately jump into the “way back machine” to think about Thomas’ Conn Smythe run two years ago.
Rask has been unbelievable, but it’s not quite fair to compare him with Thomas, who put up arguably the greatest individual regular season and postseason campaign that any goaltender has ever enjoyed back in 2011.
(There are rumblings from Thomas' agent that the 39-year-old goaltender is contemplating a return to the ice next season, whether in the NHL or in Europe, which would probably require Thomas to rediscover his in-game conditioning level. The Islanders traded for Thomas’ rights this season and have the right to toll his contract to 2013-14 because he did not report this season.)
“You guys just love comparing those two, don’t you? That guy has been retired for a year now,” Shawn Thornton said of Thomas. “Let’s let Tuukka be his own man. He’s a very calming influence for us back there. He’s always in the right spot at the right time for us. He makes big saves, and he’s consistent.
“I think he’s also a quiet guy that steps away from the spotlight, but he’s a proud individual that wants to win games.”
Rask stood tall early and often against the Penguins, and looked unflappable while making seven saves in the third period after Sidney Crosby had bumped and cross-checked him going off the ice for the second intermission.
While both Rask and Thomas have that steely determination in common, their style of stopping pucks and mental approach couldn’t be more different.
“When you look at Tuukka, when he's at his best, he's straight to the puck. [Thomas] was more of a battler," Claude Julien said. "Timmy, it wasn't about style, it was about battle. You respectthe Dominik Hasek back in the day as much as you respect the guy who is like Patrick Roy, great beautiful goaltender. Those two guys had different styles, but at the end of the day you take any one of them so we're in that same situation right now. We had Timmy make the save when you had to make the saves and it didn't matter how he made them as long as he did. Tuukka is more of a guy that will follow the puck, getting him square to it most of the time.”
Rask has also become very popular with his Bruins teammates because he’s just like every other player inside the dressing room, no matter what the circumstances. Some B’s goalies of the past have isolated themselves and been a little more high-maintenance than others, but Rask is the kind of guy that doesn't mind carpooling to practice in Boston -- which he's done quite often with Thornton.
“I told you the other day he's normal [off the ice] . . . Tuukka's normal, really," Julien said. "I'm not going to get into Timmy. I'm just saying Tuukka is as 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. They're in their bubble. But with him, he listens, and it's no problem. 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.”
Normal off the ice, and anything but on the ice. That's Rask as he continues to distance himself from the long shadow of Thomas’ brilliant play two years ago.