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Boston Bruins’ All-Time Playoff Goaltenders

(Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

By: Steve McClure | Follow me on Twitter / X @stmcclure1993

There is no doubt a correlation between the elite type of playoff performance a goaltender must demonstrate for his team in the NHL playoffs and the actual hoisting of the Stanley Cup. Few goalies in modern times can afford to play below regular season form over the grueling long haul that today’s playoffs demand. In fact, netminders must rise above regular season form in order to provide their respective teams an opportunity to survive.

For example, a .910 save percentage might win your team a round, but that type of performance is unlikely to propel your team through the gauntlet of multiple series—especially as the competition and stakes increase. The Darcy Kuempers and Marc-Andre Fleurys of the Cup-winning world are the sharp exceptions.

As the cream must always rise to the top when it comes to the NHL playoffs, let’s take a look at the Boston Bruins’ cream of the crop for all-time goaltending achievements.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo)

#1  Tim Thomas’s Conn Smythe-winning 2011 postseason must be considered the greatest playoff season performance by a Bruins goaltender. In the Stanley Cup semifinals, his .916 save percentage and two shutouts of the Tampa Bay Lightning—including 24 saves in a 1-0 Game Seven shutout—punched the Bruins’ ticket to the finals against the Vancouver Canucks. Bruins fans will gleefully recall Thomas pumping the Bruins’ tires in another seven-game series victory over the Canucks, where he posted an incredible .968 save percentage and another two shutouts—including the 37-save seventh-game shutout.

Both series displays statistically stand in the top five of Bruins’ all-time goalie ‘individual series’ performances. Each of those ‘back-to-back’ series wins were accentuated when the lights were shining brightest and when the team needed him most. The numbers are eye-popping, but to have actually seen his 2011 performance was truly spectacular. Furthermore, if we look at the scope of Thomas’s career postseason statistics with Boston, we see an elevation of his game compared to his Bruins regular season career numbers.

Thomas’s regular season career: 2.48 GAA and a .921 save percentage

Thomas’s postseason career:          2.07 GAA and a .933 save percentage

(Photo Credit: Leslie Jones Collection/Boston Public Library)

#2 Tiny Thompson also improved his Hall of Fame numbers under the duress of clampdown playoff hockey. Like Thomas, he led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 1929. His 5-0 record and minuscule 0.66 GAA that postseason—including three shutouts—undoubtedly is a feat in itself. However, a Stanley Cup run in those days did not call for the heavy load that modern-day netminders face, and ‘forward passing rules’—not instituted until the following season, which more than doubled the number of goals scored to that point—were not even in play. Thus, Tim Thomas gets the nod in my mind. Even so, Thompson’s postseason stats also improved over his regular season numbers, showing his ‘net worth’ when it counted most.

Thompson’s regular season career: 1.99 GAA 

Thompson’s postseason career: 1.72 GAA

(Photo Credit: Leslie Jones Collection/Boston Public Library)

#3′ Mr. Zero’, Frank Brimsek, can also make a case for being one of the Bruins’ greatest playoff performers as well. He has two Stanley Cups on his resume, in 1939 and 1941, and two other Stanley Cup finals appearances. In the two title years, Brimsek was a combined 16-7 while compiling a 1.25 goals against average in 1939 and a 2.04 goals against average in 1941. In the 1939 semifinals, Mr. Zero held the New York Rangers at bay in three different overtime games—two of which were triple overtime thrillers (Mel Hill scored the winners in all three!) —to catapult Boston to the finals. His two Stanley Cup final losses against talented Detroit and Montreal teams were a bit more in the plebeian-performance realm, but the Hockey Hall of Famer certainly holds a lofty place in Bruins playoff lore.

Brimsek’s regular season career: 2.57 GAA

Brimsek’s postseason career: 2.54 GAA

(Photo Credit: B. Bennett/Getty Images)

#4  Known as a ‘money goalie’ when the chips were down, Gerry Cheevers also lays claim to shining the brightest come playoff time. Perhaps his strongest performance was the 1968-1969 quarterfinals versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he pitched two shutouts and a .962 save percentage in the series sweep; subsequently, Cheevers shut out Montreal in Game Three of the semifinals that playoff year, and in game six he memorably stopped 45 Montreal shots before finally succumbing to a Jean Béliveau game-winner in double overtime.

Cheesie secured 53 total playoff victories for Boston, as well as two Stanley Cup championships, in 1970 and 1972, where he posted an 18-3 total playoff record. The 1970 runup to the title was his most impressive—winning 12 of 13 games and posting a sparkling 2.23 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Cheevers always saved his best for the springtime it seemed. 

Cheevers’ regular season career: 2.89 GAA and a .902 save percentage

Cheevers’ postseason career: 2.69 GAA and a .901 save percentage

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/AP Photo)

#5  The best ‘single playoff series’ performance was exhibited by Tuukka Rask in the 2013 semi-finals against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were frustrated to no end as Rask appeared otherworldly, stopping 134 of 136 shots in the four-game sweep. Penguin stars Crosby, Malkin, and Iginla were held pointless in the series.

Tuukka’s two shutouts and .985 save percentage vaulted Boston to a Stanley Cup finals matchup with Chicago. Despite leading the Bruins to two Cup finals and his name being etched on the Stanley Cup as Thomas’s backup in 2011, Rask did not secure the ultimate prize for the Bruins as a starter—as the others on this short list did. His all-time playoff performance is consistently in lockstep with his career regular season performance. 

Rask’s regular season career: 2.28 GAA and a .921 save percentage

Rask’s postseason career: 2.22 GAA and a .925 save percentage

The following Bruins goalies make the Honorable Mention list for strong performances in the playoffs:

Gilles Gilbert’s two shutouts—including a Game Seven blanking—and .914 save percentage vs. the Los Angeles Kings in the 1975-76 quarterfinals were memorable. Gilbert played three games in the roller coaster seven-game series, sharing duties with Gerry Cheevers. He also shut down the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1973-74 quarterfinals, going 4-0 with a .942 save percentage; he would play admirably in the finals that year against Philadelphia but came up short against the Broad Street Bullies. In the 1979 Game Seven semifinal matchup against Montreal, Gilbert would make 47 saves against the powerhouse Canadiens in a heartbreaking overtime loss.

Reggie Lemelin sparked the Bruins to a 4-1 division finals win over archival Montreal in the spring of 1988, breaking a playoff losing streak to the Habs of 19 straight series. He filled in for Andy Moog after a Game One loss and won the next four games, posting an outstanding 1.25 GAA and a .952 save percentage.

Andy Moog performed brilliantly in the Bruins 1989-90 run to the Cup. He was 12-3 over the course of the first three playoff series before losing to the Edmonton Oilers in the finals. He was particularly strong against Washington in the conference finals, shutting out the Capitals in Game Two and posting a .936 save percentage overall in the series sweep.


  1. cc

    110% Tim Thomas #1 ! what a playoff performance in 2011 ! I honestly believe we would have won in 2013 if “Tank” was in net. Tukka was good, I just feel Tim would have done better… I guess we will never know.. I wish he never took that year off

    • Steve McClure

      Special, indeed.

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