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The Bruins had a wildly successful 2008-2009 season, finishing with a 53-19-10 record, but a disappointing second round exit at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. All in all, the team improved tremendously from the year before, and still looks to be an NHL powerhouse as we move into the next decade.
One big reason for the Bruins’ success was a league-best crew of goaltenders. The men between the pipes were brick walls all season, and the best of the bunch (Tim Thomas) signed a long-term contract that will keep him in Black and Gold for the rest of his career.
So, how will Thomas and rookie goaltender Tuuka Rask handle the rigors of the upcoming season? Will the team take a step back as a result of the goaltending, or because of other factors? Or, is this team ready to hoist Lord Stanley?
I love the format we’ll be using for this Bruins season preview, by naming a “projected starter.” Based on hours of calculations, analysis, and dice-rolling, I have come to the conclusion that Tim Thomas will be the Bruins projected starter on opening night. Surprised? I hope not, because if you are, you obviously were in jail, captivity, or on the Moon.
Thomas had a career year for the Bruins last season. In 54 games (all starts), Thomas finished 36-11-7 with five shutouts. He registered an NHL-best 2.10 goals against average and an NHL-best .930 save percentage. To cap off his banner year, Thomas won the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s Goaltender of the Year.
Thomas is getting up there in age (he turns 36 next April), but he’s fresh off the best season of his career. While I think he will still be a top NHL goaltender, it’s hard to expect another Vezina Trophy. He may slip a bit, along with the rest of the team, but a No. 4 seed or better in the playoffs isn’t so bad, right?
Rask is the Bruins goaltender of the future, and at this point, he may have worn out his welcome in Providence. He’s ready for the show, but this team knows you don’t bring a goaltender along too quickly or you may lose them forever (remember Andrew Raycroft, anybody? or…was he just not that good…).
Rask sure knows how to make an impression. In his only start of the year between the pipes for the Bruins, he registered a shutout of the New York Rangers, stopping 35 shots in a 1-0 win Jan. 31, 2009. He played most of the year for Providence, however, going 39-20 with a 2.50 GAA. Not bad.
His tenure in Providence may be best known for just one moment of weakness in March 2009. A scoreless game against Albany in AHL action had to be decided by shootout, and Rask allowed two controversial goals (that may or may not have been goals). After the game, Rask exploded and had a memorable meltdown, which included throwing a milk crate onto the ice. Are the Finnish really that violent? Let’s go to the video:
Rask will be brought along slowly, but don’t be surprised if he starts in as many games as Manny Fernandez did last season (28 games, 27 starts). It’s a great way to get the young goaltender acclimated to NHL game speed. Thomas is 35 and will need his rest, giving Rask a great opportunity to shine.
Sabourin was signed to give Rask some competition for the No. 2 job. I think Sabourin was a good addition, but he may not see much time between the pipes if Rask has something to say about it (which he does). Rask is growing more comfortable with the North American game, and after two years in the AHL, he should be ready.
Sabourin is no slouch, however, and there’s a reason he’s here to compete. He did a nice job in his first game with the squad Wednesday night, finishing with 25 saves in a 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs.
The likely scenario has Thomas starting and Rask backing up with the big club, while Sabourin will man the net for the Providence B’s this season. There’s nothing wrong with goaltender depth, and as we’ve seen the past few seasons, goalies can get injured. Consider Sabourin a nice insurance policy.
I know Regan from his days at UNH (I am a BU alum), and he was a pretty solid goaltender in his day. On occasion, he’d have a blow-up game. There were a couple of times when he allowed 7+ goals, earning the nickname “Touchdown Regan.”
Beyond that, Regan does have some NHL talent, but it’s raw talent that needs to be developed in the AHL. Don’t expect to see Regan this season.
Dalton is a Canadian goaltender who played for Bemidji State but was never drafted. He went 19-11-1 in his senior season with a 2.19 GAA, while his Beavers went on a Cinderalla chase for a Frozen Four Championship. While it’s a nice story, don’t expect to see Dalton either anytime soon (but don’t count him out for the future).
Even with the loss of Manny Fernandez, this is a pretty strong group again for the Bruins. Tim Thomas should lead the way with another strong campaign, but it’s hard to imagine the 35-year-old will put up Vezina Trophy-worthy numbers again this year. Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, will take the next step in his development to one day become the Bruins starting goaltender. For now, he’ll be relegated to backup duty, which is more appropriate for his growth process.
With a deep group between the pipes, the Bruins are poised for another strong season. Will they be the No. 1 seed? It’s hard to say. I can say with certainty, though, that they will be back in postseason play, and may be built to play deep in the playoffs.
The Bruins have the talent, the experience, and the swagger necessary to carry them to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond. Hopefully, this year, they can avoid suffering the same fate as many previous Bruins teams before them…