- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- This is a tale of three goaltenders with three totally different career paths that are all intertwined in a way that has impacted the Boston Bruins for the past decade.
All you have to do is ask Bruins goalies Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, and Dallas Stars netminder Andrew Raycroft to explain it. All have a different story and all three were on display in some sort of way during Boston's 6-3 victory over Dallas on Thursday night at TD Garden.
Thomas has been the best goalie in the NHL this season with his 25-5-6 record, a league-best 1.82 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. He served as the backup Thursday night as Rask posted the victory in a 30-save performance.
"He made some big saves and that usually makes the difference in the game and he did that for us tonight," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He was really good and I liked his game. We're going to need more of that from him as we move forward."
At the other end of the ice, Raycroft started for the Stars, but was pulled after he allowed two quick goals in the first period.
So here's where it gets interesting from a historical point of view, and what connects the three goalies.
The Bruins originally drafted Raycroft in the fifth round (135th overall) of the 1998 draft. Raycroft eventually became the Bruins' No. 1 goalie during the 2003-04 season, winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Boston signed Thomas as a free agent in 2001 and he began his Bruins career in the AHL. He made his NHL debut with the Bruins in the 2002-03 season, but didn't come up to the NHL for good until the 2005-06 season, which was Raycroft's last season with the Bruins. Raycroft was traded following the season to Toronto in exchange for Rask.
Fast-forward to the present, when all three goalies were in the building Thursday night.
Raycroft, the one-time goalie of the future for the Bruins, completely understands how and why his former teammate is the leading candidate for his second Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder in the past three seasons.
"Well, obviously it's amazing," Raycroft said. "To have the numbers he has, it's hard to describe to be honest with you. It's amazing and it's no question that he's going to win all the trophies this year, that's for sure."
Thomas' success, especially at the age of 36, does not surprise Raycroft.
"He stops everything in practice and always has," Raycroft said. "He's a good goalie. He's very good at stopping pucks.
"Timmy's a great guy. He works hard and is a good teammate," Raycroft said. "We always had a good relationship and we always got along well."
The two played an entire season (2002-03) together in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, Boston's top affiliate.
"We had a good relationship, we just weren't really tight," Thomas explained. "He was a younger kid in Providence and I was a married adult with children.
"He got an opportunity when he was really young and did pretty well with it, so he was labeled the goalie of the future for quite a few years," Thomas said. "I was never coming from that direction. I was the low draft pick who was really never given a chance."
While both were playing for the P-Bruins during the 2002-03 season, it was the then-28-year-old Thomas who posted a 3-1-0 record in four games for the parent club that year. Raycroft, then 22, made five starts for Boston and went 2-3-0.
The next season, however, it was Raycroft who was given the opportunity with the Bruins, and he finished the season with a 29-18-9 record. His backup was Felix Potvin, while Thomas spent that entire season in the AHL.
During the lockout season of 2004-05, Thomas returned to Finland, where he's considered a goaltending god, and enjoyed an amazing season for Jokerit, posting a 34-13-7 record, including 15 shutouts.
The Bruins asked Raycroft, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, to play in Providence along with fellow prospect Hannu Toivonen during the lockout, but Raycroft decided against it. He remained almost idle that year, playing only 11 games in Finland.
When the work stoppage ended and the NHL returned to work in 2005-06, the careers of both Raycroft and Thomas began to take different paths. Raycroft dealt with injuries and was limited to 30 games, in which he posted an 8-19-2 record.
Thomas played the majority of the games that season and notched a 12-13-10 record. That was the beginning of Thomas' full-time career in Boston and the end of Raycroft's in a Black and White sweater.
"I could have handled it better, too," Raycroft admitted. "You can go over and over it and do a bunch of different things, but the reality is there was a lockout and we ended up playing really poorly as a team the next year after the lockout. Then we all got traded. The script's not changing because that's the way it went."
The Bruins traded him on June 24, 2006, to Toronto in exchange for Rask, who was the Maple Leafs' first-round selection (21st overall) in the 2005 draft.
"Obviously things didn't go well, so obviously you would want to go back and change things, but that's life," Raycroft said. "That's the way it goes. You learn from it. I've enjoyed my career and enjoyed how things have gone so far. It was great to be here for as long as I was, and it's been fun to be other places, too."
No doubt Raycroft was the Golden Boy. When it didn't work out, the Bruins leaned on Thomas. When Toivonen was deemed the Chosen One and failed to live up to those expectations, the Bruins leaned on Thomas.
Boston handed Rask the reins late last season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs. After Boston lost to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Thomas had offseason hip surgery. He entered training camp ready to reclaim his spot as the team's top goalie and once again silence the naysayers.
He has, and once again, the Bruins are leaning on Thomas.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
Tim Thomas, Andrew Raycroft and Tuukka Rask share plenty of history.