Up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final behind a pair of convincing wins, the Boston Bruins have their eye on a second Stanley Cup title this decade and have the appearance of the team to beat right now. Tuukka Rask has been the Bruins’ best player so far this postseason and maybe the best player altogether. That is the growing consensus anyway, as Rask has emerged as the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy should Boston go all the way. Entering the third round of the playoffs, Vegas odds makers gave the Bruins keeper the best chances to be named playoff MVP after an incredible first two rounds. Two games later, he’s continued his strong play and those odds are only improving. Granted, Cup-winning goalies tend to be given strong consideration for the Conn Smythe every year, as reflected by St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington, San Jose’s Martin Jones, and Carolina’s Petr Mrazek filling spots two, four, and five respectively in the current odds as well. However, it’s more than that when it comes to Rask’s current level of play, as a quick look at the numbers will show that has truly been the best player in these playoffs so far. In 921 minutes, almost an hour more than Binnington in second, Rask not only leads all goalies in time on ice, but also tops all starters in wins and save percentage and is second in goals against average. Ruling out relief appearances by Dallas’ Anton Khudobin and Nashville’s Juuse Saros and two starts from Carolina’s Curtis McElhinney, Rask’s .937 save percentage is the best so far this postseason and, were it not for the New York Islanders’ Robin Lehner, Rask’s 2.02 GAA would also be tops. In fact, the Bruins allowed two late goals in Game Two against the Hurricanes after sitting back on a 6-0 lead, without which Rask would lead all categories and would hold a sub-2.00 GAA.
Rask has often faced unfair criticism during his time in Boston for lacking a “clutch” factor, despite winning a Vezina Trophy and leading the team to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. In fact, while Rask may not get much recognition, he is quietly one of the better goaltenders in NHL history on paper and has been even better in the postseason. Rask’s career playoff save percentage currently sits at .927, ranked seventh all-time and fourth among active goalies, while his 2.21 GAA is 14th in the modern era and again fourth among active goalies. Compared to his career regular season .921 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, Rask is better in the playoffs, yet his regular season numbers rank third and fourth all-time behind only the likes of Dominik Hasek, Ken Dryden, and Martin Brodeur. Rask is certainly due more respect than he tends to get and if he continues this impeccable playoff run, he should get it in the form of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
- Ranked second in the Conn Smythe odds and second among the four remaining starters in time on ice and goals against average, Binnington has continued to be the surprise performance fueling the Blues amazing turnaround season. A 25-year-old rookie who forced himself into Calder Trophy consideration with a stunning second half, Binnington recorded 24 wins, a .927 save percentage, and a league-leading 1.89 GAA this season. Yet, his numbers have tailed off in the postseason, although it’s been enough to get St. Louis through to the Western Conference Final. Is there more to Binnington’s slight struggles than just tougher competition in the playoffs? TSN’s Frank Seravalli writes that it’s hard to ignore the similarities between Binnington’s season and that of Andrew Hammond in 2015, when the “Hamburglar” took the league by storm. Hammond also arrived on the NHL stage late in his career and without much initial fanfare. He posted even better numbers in his rookie year than Binnington did his year and led the Ottawa Senators to the postseason, stealing starts from Craig Anderson along the way. However, he faltered in the playoffs and was replaced by Anderson mid-way through a first-round exit. Hammond put up pedestrian numbers as the Senators’ backup the next season before completely falling off the map. Could the same fate await Binnington? Already Binnington has bested Hammond’s season by continuing to play well in the playoffs, but how he’ll perform next year remains a mystery. In speaking with Blues coaches and players, Seravall notes that no one is worried that Binnington will fizzle out, this year or next. St. Louis fans just have to hope they are right, especially if the team opts to enter next season with the same tandem of Binnington and the inconsistent Jake Allen.
- After the Colorado Avalanche signed 22-year-old Adam Werner to his entry-level contract today, they now have two goalies under contract for next season, and that’s it. Fortunately, one of those two is starter Philipp Grubauer, who came on strong in the second half of the season and in the postseason. He looks like a solid starter moving forward, but the Avs have many decisions to make behind him before next season. Werner should be no higher than fourth on the depth chart next year, so he’s not the solution as Grubauer’s backup by any means. Spencer Martin, 23, is a restricted free agent who should be back with the team. However, Martin struggled in the AHL this season and has yet to assert himself as a true NHL option through four pro seasons. Current backup Semyon Varlamov is a free agent who seemingly remains on good terms with the Avalanche, but is coming off a contract worth $5.9MM annually and may not be willing to take less than Grubauer’s $3.33MM on his next deal. This would seem to put this year’s third-stringer, Pavel Francouz, in a promising situation. The 28-year-old KHL import had a strong first season in North America, earning AHL All-Star recognition and making two impressive NHL appearances. Francouz initially signed with Colorado before Grubauer was acquired last summer and expected to compete for NHL time more than he did. Perhaps this could be his opportunity to win a full-time backup job next season. If the Avalanche feel Francouz and Martin are not adequate depth behind Gruabauer, Brian Elliott, Anders Nilsson, and Curtis McElhinney are among the affordable backup options available in free agency.