BOSTON -- The hockey world was allowed to witness a goaltending clash between Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens once this season.
Rask faced the Canadiens four times. Price faced the Bruins once, as the schedule and Montreal coach Michel Therrien's desire to play backup Peter Budaj in an environment he's comfortable in at TD Garden conspired to keep the Canadiens' No. 1 on the bench for three other Boston-Montreal games.
While Price was leading Canada to the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Rask was carrying Finland to a bronze, their paths didn't cross on the ice (although Price said they had some chats in the mess hall).
Finally, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have given many fans what they've been waiting for: Rask vs. Price in a best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series, which starts Thursday at TD Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Although they're each quick to tamp down any clamoring for a personal rivalry within the ultimate team rivalry, it's difficult to not look at this aspect of the matchup as one of the best. It's also the toughest to find an edge for either team. Rask and Price have been two of the best goaltenders in the NHL for several years. Price was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and Rask is one this year.
"We know we're facing a good goalie. It's a challenge," Therrien said. "We're facing a really good goalie, and they're facing a really good goalie."
Price has had success against the Bruins in the regular season throughout his career. He enters this series with a 17-8-3 record, 2.50 goals-against average and .919 save percentage against the Bruins. In the playoffs, Price lost both series in which he faced Boston. In a four-game sweep in 2009, he had a 4.11 GAA and .878 save percentage. In a seven-game loss in 2011, he had a 2.11 GAA and .934 save percentage, and lost in overtime in Game 7.
Rask, who watched from the bench when Tim Thomas beat the Canadiens in 2011, hasn't fared well against the Canadiens. His career record against Montreal is 3-10-3 with a 2.63 GAA and .908 save percentage. This season, the Canadiens were one of two teams to beat him more than once (Montreal beat him three times, as did the Detroit Red Wings). Rask is coming off a five-game victory against the Red Wings in the first round .
"I think it's just been, I've had some tough games against them. But I've had some good games against them too," said Rask, who had a 1.94 GAA and .932 save percentage against Montreal despite three losses. "There just haven't been the wins. I just try to do my job. We lose games 2-1, 3-2, it happens. And maybe we haven't been at our best against them in the past, but I think this year we got better and better."
The one win Rask and the Bruins had against the Canadiens came March 12 at Bell Centre, part of Boston's 12-game winning streak. Rask made 35 saves in a 4-1 win. He was clearly riding the momentum of the Olympics, and said despite not getting a rest it was invigorating to play at such a high level in the middle of the season.
Rask benefitted this year from his play a year ago on the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins ultimately lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, but Rask had a 2.21 GAA. By performing so well in his first postseason since his rookie year, Rask created confidence and performances he could build on.
"Well, I think it helped in the start. I had a good start this year maybe just because I felt good about my game," he said. "But then for a goalie it's always, you try to keep that good feeling and it's a long season so you get the ups and downs. But you always try to be at your best in the springtime. And last year, it happened to me and I just tried to recapture it this year."
Price captured the most glory at Sochi. His mind-blowing 0.59 GAA and .972 save percentage were cornerstones of Canada's repeat. Price, who is in the second round of the playoffs as the No. 1 for the second time, might not have the experience of playing deep into the postseason like Rask, but winning a gold medal can be compared to chasing the Stanley Cup.
"There are a lot of similarities," Price said. "Ultimately it's a different goal, but kind of the same mindset. So being able to draw on those experiences will help."
Price and Rask were each first-round picks. They brought home medals from Sochi and they've been tasked with being their franchise's savior for years now. They stand in one another's way on the path to the Eastern Conference Final. Of course, the shooters are going to have their equal say.
"No, it doesn't matter who's in the other end. I think it's more of a team thing for us, you know," Rask said. "He's a great goalie, obviously. He won the gold and had a great season, so we need to figure him out, get some pucks by him. But from my standpoint it doesn't matter. I just try to do the same thing as he: stop every puck."
"Tuukka's a really good goalie," Price said. "Ultimately, he's not going to score on me and I'm not going to score on him. It's all about how you play. You can't be concerned about what anybody else is doing."