Just as defense wins championships in football, hot goaltending is a necessity for playoff hockey. While we can’t
determine who the “hot” goaltenders will be until the games begin, Bruins and Sabres fans are hoping that the regular season is an indication.
Tuukka Rask versus Ryan Miller. I’ve already heard this match-up referred to so many times in regards to this series that I almost expect a boxing match rather than a hockey game come 7 o’clock on Thursday night. Of course, such praise for the two net-minders is hardly without reason. After all, Rask finished the regular season as the NHL’s leader in goals-against average and save percentage, while Miller finished second in both categories. Miller started almost 30 more games though, and who could forget his Olympic heroics. Here’s how the two stack up:
Tuukka Rask, BOS- 45 games (39 started), 22-12-5 record, 1.97 GAA, .931 save%, 5 shutouts
Ryan Miller, BUF- 69 games (68 started), 41-18-8 record, 2.22 GAA, .929 save%, 5 shutouts
Experience gives the clear-cut edge to Ryan Miller in this heavyweight bout. Miller helped Buffalo advance to within one game of the Stanley Cup finals in 2005-06, when the Sabres lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games. Miller wasn’t spectacular in the postseason that year, but he was definitely solid. Miller helped the Sabres return to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2006-07, and again played very well. Unfortunately for the Sabres, they were again ousted before the Cup, that time by the Ottawa Senators in five games. Here’s a look at Miller’s career NHL playoff stats:
Ryan Miller, BUF- 34 games, 20-14 record, 2.40 GAA, .915 save%, 1 shutout
While still solid, those numbers shed little light on the goalie that Miller is today. After all, those numbers have remained unchanged for three years, given Buffalo’s brief playoff hiatus. Miller has vastly improved into one of the game’s elite since then and could earn himself some hardware this year in the form of the Vezina Trophy. For now though, his eyes are undoubtedly fixated on a different trophy (don’t mind the awful cliché).
Rask will start constructing his postseason resume on Thursday night. How it will look following the series is anyone’s guess; playoff hockey is a different beast. So for now, in what is being coined by many as the series “Big Match-up,” I have to give Miller the edge simply because he’s been here and done that. Buffalo may have faltered in the Conference Finals in its two previous trips to the postseason and Miller may have lost in the gold medal game of the Olympics, but neither squad would have been in their respective position had it not been for Miller. Coupled with the fact that Miller is bigger, better and stronger today, and it’s hard to bet against the guy.
With that being said, I don’t think you can rule out the Bruins in the series. I expect both goalies to bring their A-game, which would essentially make the goaltending battle a wash. I expect the “Big Match-up(s)” to instead lie elsewhere. The team who advances will be the one who sees the most efficient production outside of the two steel barricades that guard the nets.