There is a tendency, of course, to view games like this with some level of finality. But for Tuukka Rask and Carey Price, this is likely just the beginning.
The Bruins and Canadiens will meet in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight at the TD Garden, and the goalies will match up the way that quarterbacks and starting pitchers do. Just as Tim Thomas dueled Roberto Luongo in the 2011 Stanley Cup final, so it has been in this series – and so it will be tonight – with Rask and Price. Goalie vs. goalie, protector vs. protector. The last line of defense.
So here’s a question for you: beginning tomorrow, on the morning after Game 7, would you trade Rask for Price? And just as important, would the Canadiens?
Rask turned 27 this spring. Price will turn 27 later this year. Both are signed to multiyear, multimillion-million dollar contracts, Rask through 2021 (at an average of $7 million per, for a total of $56 million) and Price through 2018 (at an average of $6.5 million, for a total of $39 million). Neither has backboned a championship. The Canadiens believe in Price the way the Bruins believe in Rask, each organization quite literally having committed to its goalie for the long haul.
This season, after much discussion, the NHL realigned into four divisions and altered its playoff format for the foreseeable future. You want to win the Cup now? You have to play your way out of the division first. Prior to this year, Montreal and Boston had faced off in the postseason as recently as 2011, the Bruins winning in a seven-game, first-round series that was decided fittingly, in overtime of the final game. But this year’s seven-game affair is not a rematch of that series so much as it is a harbinger of things to come, mostly because Thomas is long gone and the rules are different.
The Bruins and Canadiens aren’t going anywhere in coming years.
And neither are their goalies.
Like it or not, fair or unfair, Rask and Price will be compared with one another for years to come, starting tomorrow (or late tonight). Should Montreal win this series, and should Price continue to shine while the Bruins continue to dent posts, goaltending will be looked upon as a key element in this series. There will be those who believe the Canadiens beat the bruins because Price was better than Rask, plain and simple, an inevitable reality of the goaltending position.
In baseball, when you lose, you blame the manager and the starting pitcher. In football, you blame the coach and the quarterback. In hockey, you blame the coach and the goalie.
Of course, were Rask to come up big tonight, the opposite will prove true. He delivered when they needed him to. Price runs the risk of generally having played a very good series, only to flounder at the end and failing to seal the deal.
Entering Game 6 of this series, Rask and Price had nearly identical save percentages - .920 for Rask, .921 for Price. Montreal subsequently blew the Bruins out by a 4-0 score to force a seventh game – the final Montreal tally came on an empty net, albeit after Rask, who was skating to the bench, stumbled and fell – that gave Price (now .931) the dge over Rask (.910). Those numbers could easily shift back tonight, though we all know the final verdict will have nothing to do with percentages.
At this time tomorrow, after all, there will be a clear winner and a clear loser.
And there will be a foundation on which years of future comparisons will be built.
More from this blog on: Bruins