It’s a simple question that often brings a lot of tension in Bruins Nation: Who was the better netminder for Boston, Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask? Our Black and Gold Hockey writers drop the gloves and go head to head this week.
GAYLE TROIANI: I recently did a story ranking the best goaltenders in Bruins’ history and got a lot of slack putting Rask above Thomas. Even though Rask won the Stanley Cup as Thomas’s backup, I still would put Rask ahead of Thomas. One season doesn’t make you better; your whole career should.
LANDER: It pains me to say this since I just wrote an article about how Tuukka Rask was criminally underrated during his tenure in Boston, but I have to remain objective. Tim Thomas is the best goalie in the history of the Bruin franchise, and Rask is a close second. Their numbers are comparable, but championship play matters. In the end, I believe Thomas played slightly better in the postseason than Tuukka, which certainly counts for something. On top of that, I would argue his ability to play at such a high level while having an incredibly unorthodox playstyle also earns him points. This is because it is simply much harder to make saves and recover when one plays as aggressively as Thomas did. Thomas carved the path to the finals for Boston in 2011 and laid the groundwork for his backup goaltender to be the next great. Rask succeeded in that; he just never achieved the ultimate goal (which is not his fault). When the margins are this close between players, postseason success is ultimately the difference maker.
TROIANI: Thomas may have won the big dance, but Tuukka has him beat in every category except save percentage, in which they are tied for the top spot with .921. I know it’s hard to look past the 2011 Stanley Cup win, but I’m in the Thomas was out of position too often for me to call him the best. I know, ultimately, the team won, but Thomas did not steal them a game during the playoffs. He relied on the defense in front of him to limit the opposing players’ chances and have his bacon when he mishandled the puck and was out of position. Saves by Michael Ryder and Zdeno Chara spring to mind. Not to mention, Thomas being so out of position in Game 2 cost the Bruins the split in Vancouver.
LANDER: Thomas most certainly stole them a few games in 2011. For example, Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning was one of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen. A true chess match with Nathan Horton and co. defeating the infamous 1-3-1 forecheck to score the game-winner. The 2011 Bruins could only score one goal on home ice in an elimination game. Thus, Thomas had to be perfect against an offensive juggernaut with a trip to the finals on the line. That said, it’s not solely his 2011 campaign that gives him the edge over Rask. His career statistics may pale in comparison, but only at first glance. He took a two-year hiatus from the NHL after the 2011-2012 season at the age of 37 after posting a .920 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average. His return at the age of 39 after hiding in a cabin in the woods was lackluster and should not be held against him. Remember that Rask retired at 34, and we never got to see the back nine of his career. Therefore, we can not hold it against Thomas for having worse career totals than Rask. Had Rask gone through the same circumstances as Thomas, I’m confident in saying he would have similarly disappointing numbers. Did you know Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, a team that doesn’t even exist anymore? His ability to play at such a high level in his older age in an NHL that had changed drastically since he was drafted speaks further to his eliteness and his number one ranking over Rask. We can point to whose fault it was that the Bruins lost some games, but I can’t concede that Conn Smythe and Vezina trophy winner Thomas not only cost the Bruins games but forced the team to win despite his play.
TROIANI: Okay, okay, you got me. I may have been a bit harsh on Thomas, saying they won in spite of him. I just never loved him, and after he threw his teammates under the bus during the 2012 playoffs, it soured the win for me. I was glad he took the season off, and the Bruins parted ways with him.
LANDER: Well, Gayle, I certainly won’t argue that Thomas was a great teammate or even a good one, for that matter. I will say that Tim Thomas wins when it comes to straight-up goaltending. In an elimination game, with the universe’s fate on the line, the Martians have the death beam pointed at the earth; you better win it; I WANT TIM THOMAS. Like I said at the start, Rask and Thomas are so close in skill and easily interchangeable that postseason success is the difference maker for me. For the reasons above, Tim Thomas is the greatest goalie to ever don the spoked-B. Tuukka Rask is close but ultimately second on that list.
And there you have it; it looks like Theo won this battle. What do you think, Bruins fans? Let us know!