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

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

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.

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while thinking about and praying for the people of Manchester, England. It’s obviously an evil, cowardly act to bomb any public place, but to do it at a concert filled with women and children is the lowest of the low.

*The Capitals players are acknowledging that there’s some kind of mental block with the Stanley Cup playoffs. CSN Mid-Atlantic has all the details.

*It’s been a very odd postseason for the NHL where there are so many non-traditional teams still alive with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Fina, and the Ottawa Senators fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference Final. On that note, there is a ton of disappointment at the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre for Ottawa’s home games in the playoffs. It sounds like there are going to be empty seats tonight for a do-or-die Game 6 in Ottawa. That is an embarrassment for a Canadian city that’s supposed to pride itself on their love of hockey. Let’s hope the Senators fans have a last-minute surge to buy tickets and show some appreciation for a Senators team that’s given the Ottawa fans a totally unexpected ride through the postseason this spring. I mean, Erik Karlsson at the top of his game is worth the price of admission all by himself.  

*The Pittsburgh Penguins have the Senators on the ropes, and it’s been an impressive showing given that they’re doing it without Kris Letang.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the ownership for the St. Louis Blues giving their GM Doug Armstrong a vote of confidence.

*Another early exit from the playoffs is going to start making some players expendable on the New York Rangers roster.

*Here’s a good piece on how David Poile built the Nashville Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Give credit where it’s due: He manned up and made a big move dealing away Shea Weber straight up for PK Subban. It’s really worked for Music City as they’ve stepped to the next level.

*Speaking of Nashville’s rise this spring in a wide open Western Conference, Pekka Rinne has silenced the critics he might have had by carrying his team to the Cup Final.

*For something completely different: Boston law enforcement is on high alert after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in the UK.

 

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right.