Exactly one year ago on Jan. 23, 2012, the Boston Bruins visited the White House and President Obama to celebrate the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1972.
The biggest storyline, however, was not about who was there. It was about who was not.
Bruins All-Star goalie and Stanley Cup hero Tim Thomas did not attend the event with the rest of his team, citing political beliefs for his absence.
Although it did not show up on a stat sheet anywhere, Thomas' decision to skip the event along with the Bruins' Stanley Cup hangover sent the team into an inconsistent tailspin during the second half of the NHL season. The Bruins never recovered and ultimately lost in seven games to the feisty Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Then in June, Thomas decided to take a year off from the NHL due to personal reasons but was adamant that he wanted to return to the Bruins when he came back.
You might want to rethink those plans, Tim.
The Bruins have only played two games so far in their abbreviated 48-game regular season, but there is no doubt that current starter Tuukka Rask belongs in the net as the Bruins No. 1 goaltender, regardless of what Thomas decides to do.
Rask has only given up one goal in each of the Bruins' first two games against the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. He has posted a 0.96 goals-against average and a whopping .958 save percentage.
While it is unrealistic for this torrid pace to continue, Rask's career stats are just as impressive.
Rask has five seasons of experience, mostly as the backup to Thomas. But if you were to look at his career numbers, you would believe that he was a starting goalie on an NHL team. He has started 94 games in his NHL career, compiling a 49-35-11 record, a 2.18 goal-against average, a .927 save percentage and 11 career shutouts.
Not too shabby for the former backup goaltender.
Life as a goalie in the NHL also has to be good when the Bruins possess the depth and experience at the blue line.
Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Andrew Ference were all on the Bruins starting roster when Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
And then there is Dougie Hamilton, a 19-year-old defensive phenom who has already played alongside Chara and Seidenberg in the Bruins' first two games.
Give all the credit in the world to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, who has constructed a team that looks to be a perennial Stanley Cup contender for years to come. Only six players on the Bruins roster are over 30 years old, and only four players were not on the 2011 squad that won the Stanley Cup.
Of course, the major difference between this year's Bruins team and the ones before it is at the most important position on the ice: between the pipes.
At 25 years old, Rask—along with Hamilton and third-year center Tyler Seguin—is a cornerstone franchise piece that the rest of the roster will be constructed around.
Rask's playing style is a far departure from Thomas'. Rask is a butterfly goalie who possesses tremendous quickness and excellent body control and gives up limited rebounds and few second shots.
The Bruins' success this season and in future seasons will depend on how Rask performs. Technically, a goaltender cannot single-handedly win a Stanley Cup for his team.
But ask anyone who saw what Jonathan Quick did for the Los Angeles Kings last spring, or what Thomas did for the Bruins two years ago, and he will tell you otherwise.
If Rask continues to play near the level he has displayed in these first two games, then the Bruins will be making a sixth straight trip to the playoffs and another deep run at a Stanley Cup.
What a difference a year makes.
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