BOSTON — When NBC went to a commercial break early during the first period of the nationally televised game between the Bruins and Rangers on Friday afternoon, the network chose to cut to a shot of Tuukka Rask standing in his net, immediately followed by one of Henrik Lundqvist doing the same. It was obvious who the game would hinge on.
The NHL’s day-after Thanksgiving showdown, which the Bruins won 4-3, is always one of the bigger games on the calendar. This year, it was contested between Original Six teams boasting top notch goaltending: Boston and Rask vs. New York and Lundqvist. The veterans are among the NHL’s best goalies, but have been going in different directions this year. Rask has struggled so far, coming in to the game with a 7-7-1 record and 2.94 goals against average while Lundqvist, who missed significant time with a neck injury last year, came in at 12-4-2 with a 1.94 GAA, on pace for a career best.
Both players had enjoyed success against their respective opponents: Rask is 9-4-3 against the Rangers while Lundqvist is 21-12-2 against the Bruins after Friday’s showdown. The current state of their skills and their distinct styles were on display.
Lundqvist was very content to stand in his crease on Friday, waiting for the action to come to him. His patience was rewarded in the first period when he made a sensational glove stop on a Loui Eriksson shot from point-blank range, sliding from the center of the crease to the left post. The big Swede made the difficult stop look rudimentary.
Rask, on the other hand, used his athleticism to play a more aggressive style. In the first period, he dove out of his crease to separate Derek Stepan from the puck. In the second, he preemptively broke up a Rick Nash/Dominic Moore two-on-one opportunity.
It’s possible that Rask is taking greater chances these days and playing a more aggressive style because the defense in front of him is shaky compared to Lundqvist’s. The Bruins’ netminder surrendered a second-period goal to Oscar Lindberg after the Rangers’ center easily shed a Dennis Seidenberg check and was able to square up a shot from a few feet away. The other Rangers goal in the period, scored by a red hot Rick Nash, came after the left wing slipped behind Seidenberg and was fed a gorgeous pass from Ryan McDonough, who was able to separate from Brett Connolly.
Lundqvist, meanwhile, was comfortable letting his squad do the heavy lifting. There were a number of occasions where it looked like the Bruins would have great scoring opportunities, but he wasn’t forced to move from his stance because his defensemen put a stop to them (the exception being a first period Joonas Kemppainen breakaway, which he confidently stopped).
Lundqvist did make one critical mistake — a first period goal to Patrice Bergeron after he gave up a mammoth rebound off his left pad on a Torey Krug shot. On the Bruins’ fourth and final goal late in the third period, he was shielded from the puck by his own teammates and couldn’t get a peek at it before it was over his goal line.
“He’s a very good goalie, but he’s still a human, and we also have a really good goalie in Tuukka and (Jonas Gustavsson) as well,’’ said Boston’s David Krejci, who scored that goal. “In practice we face one of the best goalies in the world every day. When a guy like that comes in the building we know it’s going to be tough but we know we can score.’’
Rask had a blemish as well, allowing a goal to Keith Yandle that ringed off the post and off his back before careening into the net, to put New York up 3-2.
Both goaltenders made plays on Friday, but were far from invincible. Both goalies have previously taken their teams to Stanley Cup Finals.
But which is likelier to return?
Rask is the younger man at 28, and has played four fewer NHL seasons that Lundqvist, 33. Both goalies are fundamentally sound, fully developed players who are masters of body position.
The Rangers’ goalie may be slumping recently — giving up eight goals in his past two games — but is playing some of the best hockey of his life this season. Lundqvist looked unflappable for long stretches early on Friday, but broke down towards the end of the game, looking lost on the final goal.
Rask, who has shown in the past that he is capable of Vezina Trophy-caliber performances in the past, plays pucks more than Lundqvist, and is better with the glove, but Lundqvist is steadier under fire, stopping four consecutive hacks from Zac Rinaldo in the third period on Friday without moving his arms, and doing the same to Matt Beleskey in the first.
Rask, however, doesn’t compare himself to Lundqvist, and says he doesn’t take much from his game.
“I just try to watch the video of myself and see where I make mistakes and whatnot, a lot of the times you are the best teacher for yourself,’’ he said.