Reaching Their Goal: Thomas-Rask duo may be best ever

Reaching Their Goal: Thomas-Rask duo may be best ever
December 30, 2011, 6:43 pm
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GLENDALE, Ariz. All the ingredients are there: The layered and disciplined overall defensive concept. The selfless individuals who are dedicated to team defense. And two goalies with elite skills.
It can be no surprise, therefore, that -- with all those factors in place -- the Bruins have the best goaltending tandem in the National Hockey League.
Now . . . and maybe ever.
Rarely do you see two goaltending partners near the top of the statistical categories, but Tuukka Rask (.945) and Tim Thomas (.943) sit at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in save percentage in the NHL, and are Nos. 1 (Rask, 1.61) and 3 (Thomas, 1.84) in goals-against average. It goes without saying, naturally, that the Bruins are leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.81), save percentage (.941) and shutouts (6).
"You havent seen many goalie tandems that have those kinds of numbers," said coach Claude Julien.
Actually, you havent seen any goalie tandems have those kind of numbers until Thomas and Rask.
Ive never been a part of anything like this," said forward Chris Kelly, who joined the B's from Ottawa at last year's trade deadline. "You know whoever plays . . . is going to be outstanding. Its huge for us.
Kelly noticed the difference as soon as he changed sweaters.
"Even when I got here in practice, it was a lot different than where I came from," he said. "These guys dont want to get scored on even in practice when its a second rebound or something like that.
No wonder, then, that the B's goalies seem to lead the league in another category: Getting into opponents' heads.
Timmy seemed to win every time we played the Bruins," Kelly remembered of his days with the Senators. "Its nice to be on the other side. "
Nor is this a one-year phenomenon. The B's team save percentage of .930 last season was the best in the NHL in the last 10 years, and it's even better this season. This year's team GAA is also well ahead of the 2.02 totaled by both the New Jersey Devils (Martin Brodeur) and Philadelphia Flyers (Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche) in 2002-03, which was the lowest of the last decade.
It is really a unique circumstance to have two goalies on the same team that are such good goalies, said Thomas. Its a luxury that probably nobody else has in the league has, and or has had in such a long time. Its a strong tandem.
Thomas is quick to say its the best goaltending duo hes been a part of in his 14-year pro hockey career, and that includes a partnership with Manny Fernandez that won a Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed in 2008-09. That was Thomas first Vezina Trophy-worthy season.
I enjoyed playing with Manny, so I dont want to say anything thats going to undercut that, said Thomas. But as far as being physically talented and at the peak of our games, this is the best goaltending tandem Ive been a part of, for sure.
Rask has been so good that hes allowed Thomas to enjoy 11 days off between his last pre-Christmas start, against the Montreal Canadiens, and his next appearance, which will come Saturday night against the Dallas Stars. That kind of holiday vacation will keep Thomas fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs, and hes the rare goalie who seems to never gather rust coming off such a long layoff.
The Bruins planned all along to rest Thomas -- who played in 82 games during the regular season and playoffs last year - more often his season. Rask has made it possible with the level of play hes reaching. In fact, this is the first time both goalies have performed at their peak individual levels and demonstrated just how good they can be together.
Two years ago Thomas was hampered by hip issues and slightly off his game while Rask led the NHL in save percentage and goals against average. Last season Thomas had set the NHL mark for save percentage and reclaimed his throne as the best goaltender in the world, while Rask struggled to gain comfort with life as a baseball-hat-wearing backup.
This year? They're both at their peaks, and -- because of that -- so are the Bruins.
Never was that more apparent than in early December, when titanic defenseman Zdeno Chara missed two games because of a knee injury, Thomas and Rask stopped 88 out of 90 shots faced and kept the Bs afloat without their most irreplaceable skater.
Thomas and Rask give the Bruins exactly what theyll need when they play 25 of their final 41 games on the road. Theyre the biggest reason the Bruins have achieved the kind of insane consistency thats allowed them to cobble together a 21-2-1 record since Nov. 1.
They'll have to keep it up for another six months and then it will be a matter for NHL historians to debate. But Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask are making a strong statement that they're a goaltending force the league has never before seen.