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Two great goalies, but very different stories

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  June 19, 2013 09:40 AM

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It has to be one or the other, doesn’t it?

Of all the easy storylines to conjure during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup, perhaps none is more polarizing than the sheer fact that Boston goalie Tuukka Rask is having a statistically better postseason in net than his predecessor, Tim Thomas, had during the 2011 championship. There is a certain level of wonderment over that, based on how special both performances are. But there’s also the all-too-easy-to-expect, tiresome talking head backlash against Thomas and how he chose to end things here that has some thumbing their collective nostrils at what transpired against the Vancouver Canucks. Tuukka is better, suck on that, Thomas. Then, there’s a bunker joke or something.

With Game 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks looming Wednesday night, Rask has indeed had an historic run during this postseason; 14-5, with a 1.64 GAA and .946 save percentage to go along with three shutouts, including Monday night’s 2-0 win in Game 3. Two years ago, Thomas was 16-9 with a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage to go along with four shutouts, including the 4-0, Game 7 clincher over Vancouver.

Similar stats. Different paths.

Despite the odd way that Thomas shot his way out of town, frustrating the higher-ups in the organization and threatening to taint the heroic name he had made for himself after helping to deliver Boston’s first Stanley Cup trophy in 39 years, I’m still a sucker for the Tim Thomas story. When overwhelming determination wins over those who tell you that something can’t be done, there is indeed a bit of liberty assumed. I could care less about whatever political views Thomas possesses, unlike many, who use his stances as hackneyed punchlines. Thomas got deserved grief for not visiting the White House with his teammates last year because of his issues with President Obama. If only Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had gotten the same criticism for not attending in 2005 with George Bush at the helm.

Could we be any more hypocritical?

Thomas’ hardship-into-reality avenue remains an inspiration though, despite how some in the local media have dented the narrative simply because he sees civic responsibility in a different light. One local sports radio drive time host recently pounded his chest over Rask’s emergence in these playoffs and had this message for Thomas: “Smell ya later.” The talk then went to a fifth-grade level for the remainder of the show.

So why is it that Rask’s dominance allows us to forget what Thomas meant in the eyes of many? Why do we have to even compare the two, which is really an impossibility, in the first place? One looks like he’s on Prozac in net. The other made everyone watching him pop Prozac.

That doesn’t make either run any less important or impressive. Why is it so difficult to appreciate each player for what he is or was?

What Rask is doing against the likes of offensive juggernauts such as the Penguins and Blackhawks (Chicago hasn’t scored in the last 122 minutes, 26 seconds of this series), is unprecedented. But there was a time, remember, when what we considered unprecedented was winning a playoff series for the first time in a decade. Thomas was there for that. A Stanley Cup in Boston, or at least not one paraded around by Ray Bourque? Thomas was there for that.

While Thomas had to claw for a job in the NHL, Rask has been known in some circles as one of the best goalies in the world as a junior, so it’s not like this stretch is coming out of nowhere. Their backstories are completely different. Rask was always supposed to do this, while Thomas never was. Thomas has himself a Conn Smythe, and unless David Krejci has anything to say about it, Rask may well be on his way to his own.

“I think it’s just as good. No doubt,” Claude Julien said earlier this week about his goalie. “Tim has been a great goaltender for us. When you lose a guy like that, there’s always that fear that you’re not going to be able to replace him. Tuukka’s done an outstanding job. To me, he’s been as much of a contributor to our team as Tim was two years ago.”

This isn’t Brady-Bledsoe, with each guy fighting for the limelight. If anything, it’s more Clemens-Pedro. Each player was great for a segment of their time here, but the latter was poised in time to take over as the greatest at his position in team history while the former remains unappreciated because of his egotistical drive for greatness, not to mention cash.

Tim Thomas is not Roger Clemens. But Rask may indeed be the Pedro Martinez of the Boston Bruins.

If the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, it shouldn’t be about forgetting Thomas, but appreciating Rask. Why, again, exactly, is that so hard?

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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