Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford both had good views of their teams winning Stanley Cup titles without them in net. In 2010, Crawford was a Black Ace as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Flyers in six games. The following June, Rask watched from the bench as Tim Thomas played his way to the Conn Smythe and a Cup triumph for the Boston Bruins.
Now, they both own the starter's job for the respective teams, with Rask shouldering the load this season for the Bruins, and while Crawford had the most work, he split time with Ray Emery.
Entering the 2013 Final, Rask and Crawford are the only netminders owning 12 wins under their belts; both lead all goaltenders in goals against average (1.74 for Crawford, 1.75 for Rask); both are tops in save percentage (.943 for Rask, .935 for Crawford); and both have had success in overtime in this postseason (4-1 for Rask, 3-1 for Crawford).
Basically, their teams haven't reached this point of the season in spite of them; Crawford and Rask have played vital roles in the success.
So which one gives their team the better edge?
Rask, like his Bruins teammates, took the wakeup call that the Toronto Maple Leafs served them in the first round and ran with it. After the Game 7 scare, Rask breezed through the New York Rangers in Round 2 and didn't let a blooper of a goal and an overtime loss in Game 4 get to him. He then saved his best play of the postseason for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered the conference finals averaging 4.27 goals per game. Two shutouts and 134 saves out of 136 shots faced later and Rask is now playing to earn a Cup ring this time around.
"To a certain extent you got to hope that Tuukka learned from [what Thomas did in 2011] as well, seized the moment when he had the chance," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said after Game 4.
Thomas, like Rask, was known to show a bit of a temper here and there. Rask has been able to channel that temper into his play and it's shown. Who would have predicted a Bruins sweep over the Penguins? No one, really. But watching Rask's play in the series, you can see why it happened.
There wasn't a big question as to who Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville would turn to in the playoffs as his No. 1 goaltender. Crawford started 28 of the 48 games this season, but backup Ray Emery posted a 17-1-0 record during the regular season. But Crawford's been the main guy for Chicago and proved that through three rounds. When the Blackhawks offense went cold and the team fell behind 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings, Crawford provided stellar netminding as they completed the series comeback. Facing a tough task in trying to best 2012 Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick in the conference final, Chicago's offense woke up and Crawford backstopped the Blackhawks to within four games of another Cup since 2010.
"You’ve got to commend him on how he's played all year long," said Quenneville after Game 5 versus Los Angeles.
"I think the consistency, his approach where he just moves forward to see the next situation, the next shot. Unflappable in that area. He's moved us along here. Guys have responded in front of him."
That's the kind of presence you want your goaltender to provide. You want him to instil confidence in the five skaters in front of him. Big saves feed energy when a team goes from defense to offense. Crawford's been a big part of that for the Blackhawks.
This won't be another Michael Leighton versus Antti Niemi goaltending performance like we saw in 2010. Both Rask and Crawford show no signs of major breakdown heading into the Final. Both were very big reasons why their teams got out of the conference final round.
One learned from a mentor. The other isn't easily rattled. Both now the opportunities to win a Cup on their own.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Tuukka Rask
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Corey Crawford
- Boston Bruins