In sorting out what always tends to be a hectic sprint to the end of the kids’ school years — mostly spent buying and donating cupcakes for whatever it is teachers are doing in order to fulfill the state-mandated quota of days in the classroom — I had earmarked one day this week to spend at my son’s grammar school award ceremony. No biggie, but last year he took home a nod for excellence in physical education, not to mention the Presidential Educational Award, though I’m not sure how much stock folks put into anything stamped with the seal of the White House these days.
Except, there is no awards ceremony this year. This, after a select group of parents complained about the fact that said it wasn’t fair to those students who didn’t win anything. Instead, the school is doing something with cupcakes or whatever. Because cupcakes taste good, and everybody gets one. Nobody’s feelings get hurt over cupcakes.
I reference this not to rant about having to deal with another chapter in helicopter parenting, but to note the fine line of generational involvement; The Everybody Gets a Trophy era mingling with us Gen X mothers and fathers as peer protectors, and, typically, our reaction to their insufferable overbearing is like, you know. Whatever, man.
Which is kind of how it felt when Tuukka Rask’s band of whirlybird advocates began premature comparisons of the Bruins goalie’s remarkable run in these Stanley Cup playoffs to former teammate Tim Thomas’s accolades in the 2011 postseason. Certainly, Rask’s annals in Boston have always been protected by a defensive bubble erected by a segment of fans and media seemingly intent on turning the cheek on any of stains in the blue ice, few of which have managed to surface with the Bruins one win away from another hosting of Lord Stanley. But to pit Rask favorably against one of the most dominant tournament runs in Boston’s sports history? It felt like preemptive assault on lingering dubiety.
Tim Thomas, 2011 (25 games)
16-9, .940 save %, 1.98 GAA, 4 SO
Tuukka Rask, 2013 (22 games)
14-8, .940 save %, 1.88 GAA, 3 SO
Tuukka Rask, 2019 (23 games)
15-8, .938 save %, 1.93 GAA, 2 SO
The Bruins have gotten some SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSTUPID goaltending performances this decade.
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) June 10, 2019
This need to anoint the next chapter in greatness isn’t a new thing, particularly when crossing generational lines of our fandom. But it feels in an age where everybody goes home with a medal that some are too quick to consecrate excellence.
The numbers don’t lie though. Rask’s stat line has been every bit as good as Thomas’ eight years ago. One win away from the Stanley Cup, Rask has a .938 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against over 23 playoff games. Thomas had a .940 save percentage in 2011 with a 1.98 GAA over 25 games.
So, there. Rask gets the gold star.
Unless you consider that Thomas had twice as many shutouts (4) in his run, not to mention that he had to win a trio of Game 7’s against the Canadiens (in overtime), the high-flying Lightning (1-0), and the then-heavily-favored Vancouver Canucks, a band of elite bellyachers whose shortcomings mirrored their petulant devotees. Or the fact that Thomas faced 849 shots, 127 more than Rask, and had to watch his team’s anemic power play break down time and time again.
This time through the postseason, Rask had his Game 7 against the Maple Leafs in the opening round before being smitten with the offspring of breathless 90’s NHL expansion and relocation in the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. The St. Louis Blues too? The same team that was mired in last place in January before strapping on the rocket boosters? Fine. Let’s watch him take care of them too.
Rask’s postseason has been nice. It’s been fine even, which I suppose encapsulates his entire career in Boston. For all his immense net minding skills, there’s little about his approach that can be deemed as dramatic as Thomas was, particularly considering memories of the latter’s haphazardly successful style. If Tim Thomas was the Trot Nixon of goalies, where determination was more the drive than talent to reach a pinnacle, then Tuukka Rask is J.D. Drew, a programmable constant that settles less on flash and more on structure.
Had you asked any Bruins fan in April which goalie he or she would want in net in a one-game, winner-take-all, even the biggest Rask stooge would have to reasonably weigh the debate. The result would be Thomas in a landslide. With good reason.
Which brings us to Sunday night.
As St. Louis fans, the Post-Dispatch, and broadcast partner NBC prepared to celebrate the Blues’ victory before the puck even dropped on Game 6, it already stood as the ultimate test for Rask. This was, after all, the same goalie whose gasps in Game 6 of the 2013 final promised to follow him in the same fashion as the ball through Buckner’s legs. The same goalie whose questions of reliability in the most pivotal moments have been something of a lighting rod.
But Rask was prodigious in stopping 28 of 29 shots during the Bruins’ 5-1 victory, and it’s been said that his best save of the night happened to be on the Blues’ only goal (one that had to be aided by video review), a sprawling stop of a puck that crossed the goal line by the smallest fraction. We’ve witnessed this sort of execution before from Rask, but nary with the presence that he displayed on Sunday, facing elimination and more appraisal for his perceived shortcomings.
It never did it seem this postseason that Rask had the opportunity to get in his opponents’ heads, a trait that Thomas pumped all the way to the Conn Smythe. Rask did that in Game 6, confounding the bully Blues to the point where their frustrations exploded in the game’s final minute.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 10, 2019
For as good as he’s been, Bruins fans still have the memory of 2013, a postseason when Rask’s stats (.940, 1.88) were, yes, just as good as they are this year. And then there was Game 6.
So, Tuukka Rask didn’t necessarily have his Tim Thomas moment six years later as much as he did officially join the conversation of the greatest run for a goalie in Bruins history. Thomas and Rask, side-by-side. After Sunday, when Rask displayed a demeanor that bred doubt and fear into the opponent, it’s finally a notable comparison to make.
Not every player will get to raise a trophy Wednesday night. Hope that’s OK with everyone.
But it’s the last notch Rask needs for his closing argument. For without the Cup, this Thomas-Rask debate is little more than a presentation of numbers lacking distinction.
Both locker rooms should have cupcakes though. Which will be nice.