Thomas, Rask: Pucks stop here
GLENDALE, Ariz. - When Tim Thomas leads his teammates onto the ice tonight at American Airlines Center, it will have been 12 days since he last stopped a puck in game action. Not a bad rest for the NHL’s top goalie.
The schedule - just four games since Dec. 19, with a three-day holiday break built in - has allowed the 37-year-old to enjoy his longest breather of the season. But Thomas’s partner has been just as significant a reason the No. 1 goalie has watched two of his team’s last three wins.
Most of the league’s elite goalies must assume the vast majority of their clubs’ starts. Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Pekka Rinne each have appeared in 30 or more games. Because of the gulf between the play of such aces and their backups, their respective coaches have little choice but to keep calling their names in search of two points.
Not so with Claude Julien.
The Bruins coach has an embarrassment of riches between the pipes. Thomas will bring a 16-5-0 record, 1.84 goals-against average, and .943 save percentage into tonight’s game against Dallas. Tuukka Rask will let his 8-4-1 record, 1.61 GAA, and .945 save percentage cool on the bench.
No matter which name Julien calls, it’s a good bet that not many pucks, if any, will be slipping into the Black-and-Gold net.
“You’ve got arguably the best goaltender. Timmy’s proven that with his stats and the types of games he’s played over the years,’’ Julien said. “Now you’ve got a goaltender that has very similar statistics - goals against, save percentage - as Tim’s. It’s pretty hard to find another goalie tandem that’s had those kinds of numbers.’’
For Thomas, such partnerships are crucial to his success. In 2007-08, Julien’s first season behind the Boston bench, Alex Auld served as Thomas’s primary partner. The following season, after Manny Fernandez recovered from knee surgery, he teamed with Thomas to allow the fewest goals in the league.
This is the third season Thomas and Rask have shared the net. Two years ago, when Thomas was battling his balky hip, Rask assumed the No. 1 job. Last season, Thomas grabbed the starting role. This year, although Thomas has 22 starts to Rask’s 12, the two are the closest they’ve been in terms of performance and earning their coach’s trust.
“What a comfortable situation it is for me, especially with the schedule getting heavy and a lot of travel involved,’’ Julien said. “I think it’s great to have two goaltenders like that. You can allow them to play games and keep the other guy fresh. That will certainly be a big advantage for us down the road. There’s going to be nights where we’re going to be a tired team. We’re going to have to rely on somebody fresh to keep you in the game. That becomes your goaltender. As long as they keep playing the way they are right now, we’re definitely in a real good situation.’’
There were wins this month that would have been losses had the goaltenders faltered even slightly. On Dec. 13, the first game Zdeno Chara missed because of a knee injury, Rask had to turn back all 41 shots he saw to backstop his team to a 3-0 win over the Kings. The following night, with Chara unavailable once more, Thomas faced a 49-shot barrage in Ottawa, posting 47 saves in the Bruins’ 5-2 win. In Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime win over Phoenix, Rask had to make tougher saves than counterpart Jason LaBarbera.
But there have been some laughers mixed in: the 8-0 thumping of the Panthers, the 6-0 bludgeoning of the Flyers. Such blowouts - Rask played against the Panthers, Thomas against the Flyers - can ease the mental strain a goalie faces every game.
“It’s not like it’s been one of those time periods where I’ve been worn out or anything like that,’’ Thomas said. “Mentally, same thing. We’ve been winning so many games, some of them by a wide margin.’’
Riding high The Bruins will get their first look tonight at former teammate Michael Ryder, who leads the Stars with 14 goals, all but one scored at even strength.
Ryder is skating on Dallas’s No. 1 line alongside Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, and averaging 16:34 of ice time, a bump up from the 14:29 he saw last season. Ryder is in the first season of a two-year, $7 million deal.
Travel day The Bruins didn’t practice yesterday, traveling from Phoenix to Dallas in the morning. They will remain in Dallas after tonight’s game, then fly home tomorrow . . . If Rich Peverley plays tonight (he’s missed the last two games because of an undisclosed injury), he could see some power-play time at the point. Earlier this month, Peverley had been manning the right point, allowing Patrice Bergeron to rotate down low. “He’s a good passer,’’ Julien said of Peverley. “He sees lanes very well. When we made that switch, we thought Bergy was one of those guys who’s strong around the net area. He might benefit from that, as well. We can switch those guys around. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in that. It just gives us some versatility there.’’