Written by Ian C McLaren, Lead Boston Bruins Writer
There seems to be a bit of a trend developing over the course of recent NHL playoff seasons, and, if the pattern continues, Tuukka Rask may be poised to not only lead the Boston Bruins to their second Stanley Cup in 3 years, but also to become the third straight goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
First, the numbers.
In 2011 & 2012, the two goalies that achieved the highest save percentages with a minimum of 20 playoff appearances both backstopped their teams to a Cup victory and took home the Conn Smythe.
Jonathan Quick, 2012: 20 GP, .946 Sv%
Tim Thomas, 2011: 25 GP, .940 Sv%
And in 2013, the two goalies in the Stanley Cup Final – both on track to start in 20+ games – lead the NHL in Sv%:
Tuukka Rask: 16 GP, .943 Sv%
Corey Crawford: 17 GP, .935 Sv%
Despite the fact that Crawford has played in one more game than Rask, Tuukka has faced 53 more shots (527 to 474) and stopped 54 more shots than Crawford (497 to 443), adding more depth to just how impressive the Bruins goaltender has been.
On top of that, more context is added when you consider the opposition that each goaltender has faced and the kind of offense that those teams were producing during the regular season.
What we see here is that while Corey Crawford has been keeping some relatively impotent offenses at bay, Rask has thwarted some of the league’s top teams in that respect (Rangers aside). Not only that, he’s actually been getting better with each round, most recently holding Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Iginla, Letang & Co. just to 2 goals in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Trends for Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford?
As far as where the Bruins and Hawks rank in terms of offensive production during the regular season, Boston ranked 14th with 2.65 GF/g, and Chicago came in at 2nd with 3.10 GF/G. In the playoffs, however, that has flipped: Boston ranks 2nd (3.12) and Chicago is 6th (2.76). This flip might only serve to put a further premium on goaltending, and the Bruins don’t want to be the team that allows the Hawks to regain its offensive spark. If Boston can continue to walk the fine line of putting the puck in and keeping the puck out, Tuukka may be poised to join Quick and Thomas among the ranks of Cup / Conn winners.
Of course, this seemingly emerging trend is based on a somewhat limited sample size, and you only have to go back to 2010 to see that the Cup winning goalie that boasted a less than excellent Sv% (Antti Niemi .910 SV%, ranked 11th). In fact, prior to 2011, the last goalie to lead the NHL playoffs in Sv% with a minimum of 20 GP en route to a Stanley Cup victory was Cam Ward in 2006 (23 GP, .920 Sv%), and he ended up winning the Conn Smythe as well.
Having said that, what we are witnessing is a string of 3 straight incredible playoff goaltending performances, with 3 different players pushing their Sv%’s into the .940s. Truth be told, Crawford has been a driving force for the Hawks, and should earn Conn Smythe consideration should Chicago prevail in this series. But Rask has just been that much better, and may just end up jumping over the bar set by his predecessor in 2011.
In short, if the trend remains intact and Tuukka and his teammates can manage to maintain this high level of play to the tune of 4 more wins, both he and the Bruins are well positioned to bring home some hardware sometime in the next couple of weeks.