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June 1, 2013

Goaltenders Vokoun, Rask hold key to East finals

(Continued)

NHL history is littered with callow goalies who have ended up lifting the Cup. Martin Brodeur was 22. Patrick Roy was 20. Ken Dryden was 23. Jonathan Quick was 4-8 in the playoffs before going 16-4 and leading the Los Angeles Kings to the championship at 26.

Vokoun is at the opposite end of his career but enjoying the same kind of coming-out party. It’s uncharted territory for a player acquired for a mere seventh-round pick last summer as an insurance plan should Fleury falter.

“He has been one of the better goalies in NHL,” Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero said. “He just happened to be playing in Nashville and Florida, not in the media spotlight.”

One that’s certainly going to ratchet up over the next two weeks. It can get unnerving. For proof, he need only look 180 feet down the ice on Saturday night at Boston’s Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins were on the cusp of a berth in the conference finals in 2010 with a 22-year-old Rask leading the way. Boston took a 3-0 lead over Philadelphia in the second round when the season suddenly imploded. A 5-4 overtime loss in Game 4 morphed into three more defeats, including a 4-3 collapse in Game 7 when Rask squandered a three-goal, first-period lead.

Though he played 29 games the following season, he didn’t see a second of ice time in the playoffs as Tim Thomas carried the Bruins to their first title in nearly four decades.

“It’s different if you’re playing or if you’re not,” he said. “You had something to do with it on the ice.”

Rask’s role (and his view) will be much more involved this time around. And Boston coach Claude Julien thinks Rask may have turned a corner of sorts in the second round against the New York Rangers. Boston bolted to a 3-0 lead once again and went up 2-0 early in Game 4. The Rangers recovered — thanks in part to a curious goal in which Rask appeared to screw himself into the ice — to win in overtime.

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