By Michael Felger
When it comes to the Bruins playoff chances, what does it mean that Tim Thomas just set the NHL record for save percentage in a season? What does it mean that he led the league in goals-against average? What does it mean that well all give him the checkmark over Montreals Carey Price this week?
Unfortunately for Bruins fans, the answer by now is well-known.
You see, the Bruins have had the best regular-season goaltending in the league for three years running. Thomas daily double in 2010-11 (league-best GAA of 2.00 and save percentage of .938) sounds impressive until you consider that Tuukka Rask did the exact same thing last year (1.97 GAA, .931 save pct.) and Thomas did the exact same thing the year before that (2.10 GAA, .933 save pct.).
To repeat, Bruins goaltenders have had the leagues best goals-against average and save percentage for three consecutive years. No ones been better.
And they still havent gotten out of the second round.
Don't you get it by now? Between Claude Julien's measured, stay-at-home system and Zdeno Chara's presence on the blue line, it's almost impossible for a Bruins goalie NOT to have great numbers. The Bs have proven beyond a doubt that they can keep the puck out of the net over 82 regular-season games.
But when the bullets fly for real?
Not so much.
To be fair, this is hardly a Bruins issue. As my buddy DJ Bean has pointed out, Vezina Trophies just dont translate into championships. In fact, since 1988, only two Vezina winners have gone on to win the Cup (Grant Fuhr and Martin Brodeur).
This is another case of conventional wisdom run amok. People who dont know the game say that playoff hockey is all about the goalies but its just not the case. If it were, then the Flyers, who were on their third goalie by the middle of the second round last year, wouldnt have made it to the Finals and the Bruins would be able hang more than division championship banners every year.
The playoffs are different. They just are. Systems break down. The best players elevate. The teams with the best combination of skill and guts (and the goaltending good enough to compliment those two things) advance. Great systems and great goalies can only take you so far. Yes, the trap-heavy Devils won three Cups in front of Brodeur, but those teams were the exception.
And that's where we remain stuck with the Bruins. They should have beaten Carolina in the second round two years ago. They should have advanced past Philadelphia last year. They had the system and the goaltending to do it.
But they didn't know how to win. They didn't have the nerve. And when it mattered most, they didnt have the skill.
Thomas deserves all the credit in the world for setting the save percentage record. Bruins fans should feel good about him between the pipes as we head into another blood feud with Montreal. And let's raise a banner for Julien for another great goals-against mark.
But until the B's prove they have enough players who can put the puck in the net when it counts, their great goaltending numbers will remain nice to look at and nothing more.
Sort of like those old division banners.
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