Cup goalies have won respect

CHICAGO -- The masked men at opposite ends of the ice for the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have taken different paths in getting to this point.

The one common aspect between the Bruins' Tuukka Rask and the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford is both have played extremely well to help their teams reach the finals. When the puck drops for Game 1 Wednesday night at United Center, each goaltender will be focused on stopping the puck and not what the guy at the other end of the ice is doing in his crease.

Unlike the verbal battle between former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo during the 2011 Cup finals, Rask and Crawford have done plenty of tire pumping already.

"He's good," Crawford said of Rask during Tuesday's media day. "To get to this point, you have to have a guy in net who's playing well. He's a guy who's really athletic. He's quick on rebounds. He's a good goaltender, but I'm thinking about what I have to do and about their shooters, their players, their tendencies."

Rask's comment on Crawford was a little more direct.

"I think he's pretty good. He's here, right? That's it," Rask said.

Statistically, they're pretty much equals during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Rask is 12-4 with a 1.75 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and two shutouts. Crawford is 12-5 with a 1.74 GAA, a .935 save percentage and one shutout.

Like most Stanley Cup finals, this series should come down to goaltending. During media day, players from both teams praised the opposing goaltender. With all the glowing sentiments, one would never know the Bruins and Blackhawks were ready to face off in the Cup finals.

"He's been awesome," the Blackhawks' Michal Handzus said of Rask. "You can see the [series] shutout against Pittsburgh and obviously we've got to shoot the puck. We won't score if we don't shoot the puck. We need all the traffic in there and need to try to get inside.

"It was the same way when we played L.A.; [Jonathan] Quick is a great goalie. We started our first game with 17 shots in the first period, but everything was from outside, and he had an easy time with it. We kept saying we need to get inside, and that's what we need to do against Rask."

When the Vezina Trophy nominees were announced prior to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Rask and Crawford were not among the three finalists. Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and San Jose's Antti Niemi were nominated for the award.

But it's Rask and Crawford in the Cup finals.

"I thought he had a great year the whole year; it's only about the playoffs," Handzus said of Rask. "The whole year he had Vezina Trophy numbers, and he's been great in the playoffs. Obviously, shutting down [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby was a big thing, but I'm not surprised he's played this well."

Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith will lead the Blackhawks assault on Rask and the Bruins.

"The more shots we can throw at [Rask], the more chances we're going to have to score," Keith said. "It's just a matter of bearing down when we have chances. … we have our work cut out for us. We're just trying to get as many chances as we can."

While the Bruins had their goaltender succession plan in place for when Thomas' contract expired after this season, Boston needed to jump-start that plan after the two-time Vezina winner placed himself in a personal exile that ultimately led the Bruins to trade his rights to the New York Islanders.

Rask has been waiting for this opportunity, and he hasn't disappointed.

"[The Bruins] play such a great team game, and they give [Rask] a lot of opportunities to see pucks," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said."He fights. He battles. He works hard in the net. We're going to have to make life tough on him with lots of pucks to the net and getting bodies there."

When Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, Crawford was watching from the stands as a black ace. The Blackhawks were forced to break up that title team prior to the following season, and that included Niemi, who signed with the Sharks as a free agent. That opened the door for Crawford and he's helped Chicago earn a postseason berth each season since Niemi's departure.

"I think he's been great," Seabrook said of his netminder. "He's had a lot to overcome, whether it's been fighting for position or fighting for jobs. He's kept his composure, and he's worked really hard.

"He's worked himself to be one of the top goalies in the league. It's been great to see him grow."

Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who increased his offensive output in the conference finals against the Penguins, realizes the challenge the Bruins will face against Crawford. Boston's advantage, however, is its mentality of crashing the net with reckless abandon, which is something Crawford hasn't experienced yet in the playoffs. The Kings did a good job of getting traffic in front of Crawford in the Western Conference finals, but the Bruins will bring a lot more than the Kings did.

"You look at his stats all year and how he's played in the playoffs and he's a great goalie," Marchand said. "So we have to get bodies in front of him and, hopefully, we can get off a few lucky shots."