NHL Playoffs 2012, Bruins vs. Capitals Preview: The Goaltenders

BOSTON - OCTOBER 21: Mike Knuble #22 and Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals crash into Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on October 21 2010 in Boston Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Last year, Tim Thomas set an NHL single-season record for highest save percentage with a .938 mark, then bested that with a .940 mark while playing every playoff game for the Bruins last year and winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. Thomas bailed the Bruins out numerous times, perhaps none as important as his double-OT Game 5 larceny of Brian Gionta.

This year Thomas hasn't been at the same otherworldly level, as he slipped a little after the All-Star break along with the rest of the team. But he still managed to finish 12th among NHL goalies in goals-against average and 10th in save percentage. And now he looks to be rounding back into form, ending the season by winning six of his last eight starts.

And don't look now, but of the five seasons in the Bruins' history that they've got a goaltender to start 40 or more games and record a .920 save percentage or higher, Thomas has four.

Thomas overall is a surprisingly good 14-5-3 in his career. I say that record is surprising because 8 of those 14 wins came in his first 9 starts against the Caps, between 2002 and 2008. Since that run of success, he is 6-5-2, as well as one start in which he was pulled but did not get a decision. That record includes the infamous Alexander Semin 80-foot OT winner and a 10-2 loss in which Thomas was pulled after giving up 7 goals on 24 shots.

So it's not unfair to say that the Capitals have made Thomas look like a mere mortal in the recent past. If the Bruins do need to turn to a backup, there's some question who it would be. Tuukka Rask, who has never beaten the Caps in three tries, has been practicing, but I would say it's doubtful he would appear. Anton Khudobin, who recently stonewalled the Senators, will likely be the backup, and if the Ottawa game is any indication could be an interesting prospect in the future, but let's hope he's not needed.

In past All-Star games, I've noticed that Alex Ovechkin and Tim Thomas seem to have a friendly relationship. But Thomas hasn't been very generous to Ovechkin in terms of allowing goals. Ovechkin has 7 goals against Thomas on 114 total shots for an 8.77% shooting percentage, well below his 12.09% career average. Minus the 10-2 game, he has a 6.42% against Thomas. It's fair to say that Thomas has been a thorn in Ovechkin's side, and will have to be in this series. Other Caps snipers Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have five and two goals on Thomas, respectively. Backstrom has only played four games since returning from a concussion, but did post a goal and an assist in his last game.

Braden Holtby will get the Game 1 start in the Caps crease according to most sources. Tomas Vokoun, acquired to give the Caps the premium goaltender they've dearly needed the past few years, is still out with a groin problem just like Rask and Michal Neuvirth injured his left leg and says he's not sure if he can play in the series. Holtby is 14-4-3 in his entire career, picking up a win against the Bruins after 10 minutes of play. He has never appeared in the playoffs.

From what's out there on Holtby, an image of a very confident guy appears.In fact, it seems some Caps fans prefer him to Neuvirth at least and maybe even Vokoun, since both have had their issues this season. They feel he is more capable of stealing a series than either of them. He's going to get tested very early, and the Bruins need to get on him early. Bet on hearing some "BRA-DEN HOLT-BY" chants in the Garden.

It's said over and over again, but it should be said again here: you need great goaltending to win in the playoffs. And on the face of this matchup, unless Holtby shocks everyone, the Bruins have a huge advantage here. A Conn Smythe winner versus a playoff newbie heavily favors Boston.

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