The Boston Bruins have a rich history in the world of hockey as an Original Six franchise, but their history of goaltenders has not always been strong.
According to hockeyreference.com, 106 goalies have pulled the Bruins jersey over their pads and guarded the net. In my 26 years as a Bruins observer, I have witnessed what we will call an interesting string of goalies come through the franchise, including Byron Dafoe, Andrew Raycroft and John Grahame.
To find the three best Bruins netminders, the time machine had to be dialed back a few generations, but a few legendary goaltenders rise to the top of the group despite the overall weak history in the net. For a goalie to be eligible for this list, they had to play at least 100 games for the Bruins and all the statistics mentioned come from the players time with the Bruins.
#3: Frank Brimsek
Coming in at number three is the man who guarded the pipes from 1938 to 1949, Frank Brimsek. He burst onto the NHL scene at the start of the 1938-39 season after an injury to Cecil Thompson. His call to the Bruins was supposed to be temporary, but he played so well he was rewarded with the starting job for the entire season.
The decision to keep him turned out to be a good one as he went on to collect the Vezina, Calder and Stanley Cup in his rookie campaign. Brimsek played nine total seasons with the Bruins, racking up two total Stanley Cup Championships (1939 and 1941) and two Vezina trophies.
To go along with his hardware, he led the NHL in wins and shutouts twice and he was consistently one of the best goaltenders in the league. Brimsek’s 230 wins in a place him second all-time in franchise history, and his 35 shutouts rank third.
When the United States joined the European effort in World War II, Brimsek left the Bruins to enter the United States Coast Guard for two years. He was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the class of 1966, becoming the first American-born goaltender to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
#2: Gerry Cheevers
Posting up at number two is Gerry Cheevers, who spent 12 seasons with the Bruins between 1966 and 1980. To a large mass of Bruins fans, Cheevers is considered a legend and the best goaltender to wear the spoked B.
Sporting his famous mask covered with painted stitch marks, his aggressively entertaining approach to goaltending made him an instant fan favorite. When Cheevers was in the crease, fans were never bored as he turned the art of goaltending into a show anyone could enjoy. The fact he brought two Stanley Cups (1970 and 1972) to the city did not hurt his stock either.
Although Cheevers never won a Vezina, he was one of the best goalies in the NHL every year as he was usually found in the top 10 for wins, shutouts and goals against average. Within the Bruins organization, he ranks third in wins and sixth in shutouts. Had Cheevers not left to join the World Hockey Association for four seasons in his prime, he may have shattered many Bruins’ records.
#1: Cecil “Tiny” Thompson
Topping the list as the best Bruins goaltender is Tiny Thompson. He manned the crease for 11 total seasons between 1929 and 1939 with 10 of them being complete seasons. When looking at the statistics, it does not take long to realize Thompson owns the Bruins’ record book.
He ranks number one in wins, shutouts and games played among Bruin netminders. Over his 10 complete seasons, he led the NHL in wins five times and shutouts four times. For his efforts, he received the Vezina Trophy on four occasions. Although he only won the Stanley Cup once (1929), it was the first championship for the franchise.
Adding to his legacy, he made stopping the puck by catching it a popular way to make a save as he was one of the first goalies to perfect the technique. He was also the first ever goalie to record an assist in a game and regularly handled the puck, which was a new concept at the time. In 1959 he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Regardless of your personal feelings about Tuukka Rask, there is no denying he is one of the best goalies to take the ice in a Bruins uniform. At the time of this writing, Rask has posted over 200 wins, ranking him fourth among Bruins goaltenders and he will likely pass Thompson’s franchise record within the next three seasons.
In the 2012-13 season, he won the Vezina and led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals, but ultimately lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. Last season, he became the first Bruins goalie to register 30 wins in four consecutive seasons. At this point in his career, Rask has accumulated a 2.26 GAA and a .922 save percentage over 389 games(at the time of writing in 2017).
A feeling of nervousness overwhelmed fans whenever Tim Thomas guarded the cage with his unorthodox style. The nerves soon passed when you realized he was rarely getting scored on and you eventually would grab some popcorn and enjoy the show. Thomas somehow made his unique approach work and etched himself firmly into the Bruins’ record books.
Thomas was the recipient of two Vezina trophies, a Conn Smythe and basically won a Stanley Cup on his own in 2011. Fans will forever remember his insane run during the 2011 playoffs when he posted a historic 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage. In his time with the Bruins, Thomas recorded 196 wins, a 2.48 GAA and a .921 save percentage. He was certainly one of the most exciting goalies to ever strap on the pads for the Bruins.
* originally written in March of 2017