It would be difficult to argue that Joe Thornton is not the best player on the Bruins roster. When Thornton brings his A game to the rink, he has shown just how dominating a presence he can be. Many believe that as Thornton goes, so go the Bruins. An exception to that is club president Harry Sinden. After a convincing victory over Toronto Thursday, Sinden was asked if Thornton was the key, and he said, "A little bit, but more this guy. More this guy."
"This guy" is goaltender Andrew Raycroft.
Sinden said the fundamental reason the Bruins have a chance to win every night is the play of their No. 1 netminder. Truthfully, when was the last time anyone could say that? No one calls Raycroft "Andy" but the last time was when another Andrew -- Andy Moog -- was between the pipes.
Raycroft remained at 21 wins after last night's 3-3 tie with the Carolina Panthers. For the last decade, the Boston net has been a revolving door of second-tier talent. The goaltending has been subpar in virtually every postseason since Moog was shipped out in 1993. Raycroft is only 23 and is that rare find: a goalie the club actually developed in the organization.
"He's made all the difference in the world," said Sinden. "We tried to survive there with some decent teams and kind of middling goaltending and you can't do it. Look at Toronto without [Ed] Belfour. Things change. [Raycroft's] been outstanding. He's smart and reads the play. [Ex-goalie and now scout Gerry] Cheevers knew early that he was going to be a good one."
That's quite an admission, and Sinden is dead-on correct. It would take more room than this column has to list the goalies who couldn't cut the mustard between Moog and Raycroft. The best of a B-list bunch were Jon Casey in 1993-94 and Byron Dafoe from 1997-98 to 2001-02, but neither could lift the team to the next level. Raycroft could be the exception. He has ice water in his veins, makes the spectacular save look routine, and doesn't take himself too seriously. Most important, he stops the puck.
For all his disappointment at sitting out more than he plays, Felix Potvin has been the ideal backup: He's professional, generous, and can be trusted to do his job. For much of the 1990s, after the Moog-Reggie Lemelin tandem was broken up, the Bruins were not confident in what they had, especially at the backup position. Now they have two goalies they believe in.
So why shouldn't anyone have high hopes for this team, which was virtually ignored during the Red Sox' and Patriots' dramatic postseason runs? Last year, it was the play of goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere that led to the Ducks' improbable appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. Olaf Kolzig did it for the Capitals in 1998. This year, it could be Raycroft, a candidate for the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year.
A lot would have to fall into place for Raycroft to carry the Bruins through a lengthy postseason, but consider this: The Bruins' most fierce competition (at least from a netminding perspective) is Toronto, where Belfour's back is a huge issue; Ottawa, where Patrick Lalime has to this point fallen short in the postseason; Philadelphia, which has had as much turnover between the pipes as the Bruins; and Tampa Bay, which has the terrific Nikolai Khabibulin and a talented offensive attack but so far has lacked the playoff chops to go the distance.
There has been plenty of cynicism surrounding the Bruins, given that the team hasn't made it to the third round of the playoffs since 1992 and has won only two series in the past 11 years. All of that wait-and-see attitude is completely justified. However, there's an opportunity for that to change. Raycroft has the goods. It's been a long time since Bruins fans have been able to see or say that.
The milestone passed quietly in the East because it was reached by a player out in Anaheim, but it was quite an achievement for Mighty Ducks forward Sergei Fedorov, who became the first Russian-born player to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Overall, he becomes No. 67 in NHL history to hit that mark. Fedorov, in his first season with the Ducks since leaving the Detroit Red Wings, said it has been an adjustment to learn a new system and adjust to a new coach (Mike Babcock) and new teammates. "It was pretty interesting in the beginning because I wasn't sure exactly what the system required of me," he said. "I like to move, I like to be moving forward. I don't like to really stop in the defensive zone. That's the first thing I learned. You know what? I think it's helped my game overall, because when I do that, everybody already knows their positions and it's easier on everybody to defend, let's say, cycle in our zone defensively. That's one of the things, one of the details I had to learn and adapt right away to my game in order to be successful with the other four guys on the ice." The Ducks have picked it up significantly after a disappointing start. Giguere has been the key. Before the All-Star break, he was a woeful 7-21-4. But he was 4-1 in his first five starts thereafter, with a 1.61 goals-against average and .943 save percentage . . . Rangers general manager/coach Glen Sather, whose team is well on the way to a seventh straight year out of the postseason, certainly has his detractors. New York fans are calling loudly for his ouster, and now there's a website devoted to just that purpose, and it even contains a petition. (The site's unflattering address is unprintable here.) As longtime Gotham gossip columnist Cindy Adams writes at the end of her pieces, only in New York . . . Dafoe has had nothing but terrible luck since joining the Atlanta Thrashers as a free agent. The latest setback came Wednesday when he slipped on a patch of ice outside the team hotel in Ottawa while going for coffee with teammate Shawn McEachern and suffered a back injury. Unable to brace himself, Dafoe slammed his back on the curb. He returned to Atlanta to be evaluated . . . Is there something in the water in Montreal? How else to explain the internal tension that has led to a couple of skirmishes in practice? A couple of weeks back, it was Pierre Dagenais and Craig Rivet going at it. The next day, the Habs beat the Islanders, 2-1. Last Wednesday, it was Saku Koivu and Mike Ribeiro who went at each other. The club went on to beat Calgary, 4-1, a day later. Defenseman Stephane Quintal said he was all for it. "I think it's great," said Quintal. "I love that stuff because it shows that guys care." But seriously, maybe they care about the wrong things. Fighting your own teammates? That's fine in training camp when everyone is battling for a job, but when you're trying to shore up playoff position, it's a waste of energy. The most perplexing part is that the latter incident led to Montreal fans booing Koivu, who according to some members of the media was not passing the puck to Ribeiro on the power play. Other media types have written that that assertion is silly. "I wonder why that happens," said Rivet of the booing. "The unfortunate part of this is that fans, I guess you could say their lifeline with us is the media. They pick up the paper or listen to the radio or watch TV and this thing between Saku and Mike, which was nothing, is built into something. They believe it and it's too bad. He's upset, he's affected by it, as are all of us when that happens."
Calgary's Jarome Iginla became the seventh Flames player to have four 30-goal seasons. The others are Theo Fleury, Joe Nieuwendyk, Hakan Loob, Gary Roberts, Joe Mullen, and Kent Nilsson . . . The Chicago Blackhawks are clearly a team in transition. It's difficult to see the once-proud Original Six franchise in such tatters, especially considering the job coach Brian Sutter is trying to do. As anyone who ever met Sutter knows, he lives and dies with his team's fortunes. Senior vice president Bob Pulford pleaded for patience from the fans. The club dumped $8 million in salary by dealing Steve Sullivan to Nashville and Alexei Zhamnov to Philadelphia. In return? Center Colin Fraser, defenseman Jim Vandermeer, and five picks in the first two rounds of this year's draft. "All we want is for the fans to give us a chance to do this," said Pulford. "These are decisions we made as a group, and we tried to put together a plan to rebuild this hockey team so when we go back to work, we're going to have a competitive hockey team. All we want is a chance to do that. Judge us on what that result is going to be." . . . The newest Star, forward Shayne Corson, disputed accounts that he walked out on the Maple Leafs last spring. The troubled player, who has more than his share of off-ice drama, said he just wants to get back to playing hockey. "I've been through a lot of hard stuff in my life and I've dealt with all of it," he said. "I've never been a quitter. I left last year because of my health." . . . Florida coach John Torchetti is challenging his young talent to step to the plate and lead the Panthers to a playoff berth, which seems unlikely. He believes Olli Jokinen, Marcus Nilson, Kristian Huselius, and Niklas Hagman need to ask more of themselves. "They should be tired of not making the playoffs," said Torchetti, whose squad has missed the postseason since 2000. "They've been talking about it. `We've got to make the playoffs. We've got to make the playoffs.' OK, you've been here four years. So it's your team, fight for it." . . . No disrespect to the terrific job that Bruins bench boss Mike Sullivan has done in his first year, but only one man deserves the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year: the Kings' Andy Murray . . . The Grammy-nominated band Godsmack will perform at the FleetCenter tomorrow night, following the Bruins' contest against Florida. They will play an acoustic set, free to all fans with tickets to the hockey game, to promote their upcoming CD, "The Other Side" . . . 16 days to the trade deadline.
AND ANOTHER THING...
All in one
"It was a fun game to watch, huh? It had everything: goals, fighting, cross-checks, spears, penalties."
-- Minnesota forward Sergei Zholtok on his club's 6-2 win over the Canucks.
When Minnesota forward Antti Laaksonen scored on a penalty shot Thursday against Vancouver, it was the Wild's fourth conversion on five tries this year. The rest of the league was just 11 for 38 on penalty shots.
"It's all over the league right now. I don't know whether we're allergic to wood or what."
-- Devils coach Pat Burns, on the widespread use of composite sticks.
Compiled by Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.