Tuukka Rask should be accustomed to taking a backseat to a Canadian goalie. If he doesn’t win the Vezina Trophy this season and Carey Price does, it will be the second time it’s happened to him. And he doesn’t appear to be any worse for it.
The first time was in 2006 when the Toronto Maple Leafs chose Justin Pogge over him. The Leafs, with the two stars from the 2006 World Junior Championship in their system, signed Pogge and, in one of the worst trades in recent history, moved Rask to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Andrew Raycroft.
The Maple Leafs, apparently oblivious to the fact that Pogge had backstopped arguably the best defensive World Junior team in the history of the tournament, feared the public backlash they would face if they chose a Finnish-born goalie over a Canadian World Junior hero. The move has haunted the Maple Leafs for years and was one of the main reasons why former GM John Ferguson was fired.
Now it could be Price’s turn to steal Rask’s thunder. With all due respect to Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rask and Price have separated themselves among Vezina Trophy contenders. The sentiment seems to be that Price will get the nod over Rask, but it’s important to remember that the league’s GMs, not the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, cast the ballots for the Vezina Trophy.
Both have been outstanding this season in general and of late in particular. Rask stopped all 28 Chicago shots he faced in leading the Bruins to a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in what was a repeat and could be prelude to the Stanley Cup final. The victory gave the Bruins at least a point in 14 straight games – with the only loss coincidentally coming to the Canadiens and Price in a shootout – and a string of 20 games in which they’ve lost only one in regulation.
In Detroit, meanwhile, Price was slightly busier than and not near as impenetrable as Rask, stopping 26 of 30 shots in a 5-4 win over the Red Wings. Price had stopped 20 of 21 in the first two periods before giving up three on nine shots in the third.
Aside from the fact that Rask has faced 158 fewer shots than Price this season, the two goaltenders have pretty similar numbers. Most recently both of them have been lights-out great for their teams, with Rask being slightly better.
Dating back to before the Olympics and before he missed eight games with a lower body injury, Price has a record of 8-1-0 in his past nine starts. Rask, on the other hand, has an 8-0-1 mark. In those games, Price has a save percentage of .932 and a goals-against average of 2.12. But Rask, who has faced 40 fewer shots in his last nine than Price has, compiled a superior save percentage of .953 and goals-against average of 1.31.
In the only game in which the two have faced each other this season, Price and the Canadiens bettered Rask and the Bruins 2-1 Dec. 5. Price stopped 32 of 33 shots in that game, Rask 25 of 27. Both were heroes for their respective countries in the Olympics, but Price gets the nod on the strength of winning the gold medal and posting better numbers. It would have been interesting if Rask had not missed Finland’s 2-1 semifinal loss to Sweden because of the flu. Had he played and won, he and Price would have gone head-to-head in the gold medal game.
Given their long histories and rivalry, it’s surprising to learn that you have to go back almost 70 years, to 1945-46, to the last time a Canadien and Bruin goaltender finished 1-2 in the race for the Vezina Trophy. That season Bill Durnan of the Canadiens beat out Frank ‘Mr. Zero’ Brimsek of the Bruins. The only other time that happened was 1929, when George Hainsworth of the Canadiens bettered Tiny Thompson of the Bruins. (It should be noted that from the inception of the Vezina in 1926-27 until 1980-81, the trophy went to the goalie(s) playing for the team with the league’s best GAA. The award was not voted on until the 1981-82 season.)
Perhaps that run of futility against the Canadiens will end this season for the Bruins. If Price wins the Vezina, he’ll have stopped a run of non-Canadians winning the award that goes back to 2007-08 when Martin Brodeur won it. If Rask takes the honors, he’ll become just the second Finnish-born and –trained goalie to take the award after Miikka Kiprusoff.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins flagging and losing to the Los Angeles Kings, the Canadiens and Bruins might be the two best teams in the Eastern Conference at the moment. The Bruins do not have a discernible weakness and are getting contributions from all parts of the lineup, with the suddenly red-hot Patrice Bergeron and Carl Soderberg providing all the offense against the Blackhawks. The Canadiens, meanwhile, are getting enormous production from their first line of David Desharnais between Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty. Each member of the line scored a goal and the three combined for 11 of the Canadiens 29 shots.
It’s a shame that at least one of them will be out of the playoffs after the second round. The Bruins, who clinched the Atlantic Division with their win, will almost play the eighth seed in the first round, while the Canadiens appear destined for a first-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If both are victorious, they will meet in Round 2.