Emerging Goalies To Meet In Stanley Cup Finals

By James Taylor III
Scott Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

It will be an intriguing match-up of emerging goaltenders when the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins meet in the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night.

Neither Corey Crawford nor Tuukka Rask were the men between the pipes when their teams won the Stanley Cup just two seasons ago for the Bruins and three for the Hawks.

With Anti Niemi moving on to the San Jose Sharks and Tim Thomas’ retirement and odd trade to the New York Islanders, the crease was for the taking for both Crawford and Rask. Neither has disappointed.

Crawford started the season as the incumbent starter ahead of Ray Emery. Crawford was 0-2 in playoff series although his numbers weren’t that bad. Thus he began the season as the number one goalie and held that position despite a great season from Emery. The strong play of Emery had some people questioning who should be the top goalie in Chicago, but Crawford rightfully held his spot.

Crawford sported a sub 2.00 goals-against-average and started the 29 of 48 games. Crawford and Emery combined to win the William Jennings Trophy, as the Hawks allowed the least amount of goals during the regular season.

Crawford leads all starting goalies with a 1.74 goals-against-average in the playoffs and has been as consistent as a goalie can be in the playoffs. He has only allowed more than three goals in one of his 17 starts, as the 28-year-old has really come into his own as the season continues to unfold.

Rask, meanwhile, has been every bit as good as Crawford in the playoffs.

Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports

The calm, 26-year-old native of Finland is completely different from the eccentric, unorthodox Tim Thomas, but the results have been the same thus far.

Rask, a 2006 first round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, leads all starting goalies in save percentage during the playoffs. He shutout the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins twice in four games, as he only allowed two goals in the series sweep.

Rask will be a restricted free agent after this season, so he is playing himself into a monster deal. If he can have a strong series and claim the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, he will have to be considered one of the top goalies in the world. At just 26, he appears to just be entering his prime.

Both Rask and Crawford have gone head-to-head with some of the most elite goalies in the game. Crawford has defeated Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard while Rask has taken down Henrik Lundqvist.

Each goalie will have to try to tame hot offenses if they are to hoist the Stanley Cup.

For the Hawks, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa have led the way, but Patrick Kane has four goals in his last two games and is finally producing. Duncan Keith has also been an offensive force, and if Jonathan Toews can find his game the Hawks will be a stern test for Rask.

The Bruins, meanwhile, have scored the most goals in the postseason and like the Hawks, are getting production across the lineup.

David Krejci leads the postseason with 21 points and is second in the league checking in at plus-14. His linemates are also having monster postseasons. Along with Krejci, Nathan Horton (17 points, plus-21) and Milan Lucic (13 points, plus-13) are forming the most formidable line in the 2013 postseason. Throw in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, and Crawford will also have his hands full.

Whichever goalie ends up hoisting the Cup will cap off an amazing postseason. Facing a potent offense and a superb counterpart at the other end of the ice, either Corey Crawford or Tuukka Rask will earn the right to hoist the Cup over the next two weeks.


Follow James on Twitter @JT3sticks

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