The Bruins are once again in the playoffs and you know what that means? Tuukka talk.
At this point, I think the only thing that Bruins fans and media can agree on is that since Rask won the starting job from Tim Thomas during the 2009-10 season, there hasn’t been a more polarizing member of the team in terms of performance and perception.
Just to get it out of the way, here is my own view:
My opinion of Rask is twofold. I think he is a good/very good goalie capable of elite play. He has his flaws. He can be inconsistent/streaky and he may be slightly overpaid. But, until I see a clear option to replace him, I take the devil I know over the devil I don’t every time. Finding a goalie that can win a Stanley Cup is not as easy as some people claim.
Which brings us to this installment of Felger and Mazz: In Context. According to some people on 98.5 The Sports Hub who host a show between 2-6 p.m., all the Bruins need to win a Cup is an “average goalie”.
This statement used to be “All the Bruins need to win a Cup is a guy like Antti Niemi,” until the host in question (yeah you, Felger) was reminded that Niemi had been on waivers more than all the Ventrone brothers combined.
Now Niemi’s name didn’t come up by accident. Our woefully misguided host obviously knew Niemi won a Cup and had been a journeyman goalie since then. So his thinking was, obviously, why can’t the Bruins have success with someone similarly “average”?
And I would like to use this mute button-free forum to remind our host that the very examples he uses to condemn Rask’s play as “inconsistent” and “choke-y” are even more evident in Niemi’s game.
Case in point, save percentage under .900. This has been the “cudgel du jour” used to lambaste Rask’s play as unacceptable. Rask had three games under Felger’s mythical threshold in the first round in Toronto, and has similarly sub-.900 save percentages throughout his career in elimination games.
So you would think Felger’s “average” savior would be superior here. Yet in Niemi’s Cup-winning postseason, he posted a sub-.900 save percentage in 12 of the 22 games the Blackhawks played, and a sub-.900 save percentage in three of the four games where the Blackhawks eliminated their opponent. In the Cup Final, Niemi had a sub-.900 save percentage in five of the six games of the series, including the clincher.
If Rask crapped himself in the 2013 Cup Final, Niemi put on a Fecal Ice Capades. So how did the Blackhawks survive such catastrophically “inconsistent” and “choke-y” play in goal that postseason?
That Chicago team won with Felger’s “average” poster boy because they were a generationally stacked juggernaut and they dumped him right after because they had a better goalie waiting in Corey Crawford. It is similar to the dynastic Detroit teams winning with Chis Osgood, a goalie they replaced multiple times and left exposed on waivers in his prime. Just like Jean-Sebastian Giguere won a Cup with the Ducks not when he was a Conn Smythe-winning dynamo, but when he had more pedestrian stats and two Norris Trophy winners patrolling in front of him in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
The “average goalie” that shows up and wins a Cup without an elite team in front of him is a myth.
The bottom line is that the vast majority of goalies that win Cups are very good goalies who get hot in the postseason.
Can Rask be that goalie? We have seen flashes that would make us believe it’s something he could be capable of. We’ve also seen play that sows doubt in those hopes.
But like I said, Rask is the devil we know. And since there are no obvious, viable options to replace him, I go with him over the devil we don’t know. And certainly over the devil Felger thinks he knows.
Follow “Mike from Woburn” on Twitter @MikeFromWoburn.