The only time the names Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi, and Tuukka Rask were mentioned before the playoffs was usually in regards to a goaltending “controversy”—but this ménage trois of magnificently miraculous masked men has carried their teams on their backs in the first round.
Rinne and Niemi are in a tough position because they are playing one another in the first round; therefore, only one youngster can advance. Through two games, Rinne and Niemi are both 1-1.
Rinne stifled the Chicago Blackhawks impressive offense in the first game, holding them to just one goal on 26 shots in a 4-1 win.
In the same game, Niemi was not spectacular, but he was consistent. He stopped 22 of 24 shots.
Game Two was a tough loss for Rinne, who played another stellar game. He stopped 31 shots of the 33 he faced, but received no goal support in a 2-0 loss.
Niemi bounced back in Game Two, stopping all 23 shots for his first career playoff shutout.
“Antti came off a game where we were all disappointed. It was a nice response by him,” Chicago Joel Quenneville told the Associated Press after Sunday’s win.
But perhaps the best overall goaltender in this year’s playoffs has been Rask.
Faced with the incredibly tough task of taking on Vezina Trophy-favorite Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres, Rask has stood on his head in the first round and currently has his Boston Bruins ahead 2-1 in the series.
Rask is just 23 years old with no playoff experience, but is playing like a seasoned veteran who has already won a couple of Stanley Cups. He has stopped 88 of the 94 shots he has faced in three games.
“He made some great saves to keep us in the game, particularly at the end of the game to keep us from going into overtime,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told the Associated Press of Rask after the Bruins’ win on Monday night.
The three netminders lead all playoff goalies in goals-against average and have three of the top four save percentages in the first postseason of their young careers.
The playoffs are usually won by experience and learning from mistakes, but so far this postseason, inexperience has the upper hand.