Raycroft on Bruins' recent playoff success vs. Leafs, being a goalie in Toronto, Boston
The Toronto Maple Leafs missed out on the playoffs in the 2006-07 season by one point. It's a painful memory for goalie Andrew Raycroft, who could only watch as Wade Dubielewicz and the New York Islanders beat the New Jersey Devils in a shootout on the final day of the regular season to steal the last Eastern Conference spot.
"I say this lightly, but it was almost like I had PTSD for a little while," said Raycroft, who played 72 games that season. "It hurt a lot. It really hurt a lot all summer to miss the playoffs after putting so much into the season."
Toronto acquired another goalie that summer, Vesa Toskala from San Jose, which also weighed on Raycroft.
"I just wasn't mentally strong enough to get through it and be ready for that next season," he admitted. "I was still young and didn't know what to do. It's frustrating. I look back on it and wish it would've gone much differently."
Raycroft struggled to deal with the attention that comes with playing in the centre of the hockey universe, where every development is scrutinized, and the media requests never really let up.
"You just feel that naturally," he admitted. "You can say as much as you want about how, 'It doesn't matter,' or, 'I can compartmentalize it,' but that's the biggest difference for players playing in Toronto is that [media] workload day in and day out. In Dallas, you have to answer those questions, but it's once a week rather than seven times a week."
Raycroft played in just 19 games in the 2007-08 season, his final one in Toronto, posting an ugly .876 save percentage.
"I was just bad," he stated plainly.
Raycroft started his career in Boston, winning a Calder Trophy with the Bruins before a controversial trade sent him to Toronto in exchange for the rights to Tuukka Rask. As a result, he's forever linked to the Leafs-Bruins rivalry.
Raycroft now works in Boston as a studio analyst with NESN. He lives just a couple miles away from Rask.
"Tuuk and I have joked about [the trade] and laughed about it and it’s something that connects us and will for a long time – or at least as long as he keeps playing," said Raycroft with a grin. "With him still playing my kids can think I was as good as him, so it works out for me that way."
The Leafs-Bruins rivalry will be in the spotlight on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET when TSN4 replays a game between the teams from Nov. 10, 2017. The Leafs won that night, 3-2, with Patrick Marleau netting the overtime winner. But the Bruins have won when it matters most, eliminating the Leafs in three playoff series since the infamous 2013 meltdown.
Raycroft spoke to TSN via Skype this week, offering his take on why Boston has been able to maintain an edge on Toronto. The 40-year-old also shared memories of rooming with Patrice Bergeron during the Boston centre's rookie season and explained why he feels Mitch Marner has the talent to one day win the Selke Trophy.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Why do you think Toronto has struggled to get by Boston in the playoffs?
"It's come down to team toughness and the experience, which the Bruins have, coming from Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci. I think those guys have given that extra inch that it's taken. Last season, the Leafs had them on the ropes at 3-2 going home. I was there at Game 5 and was shocked at how well the Leafs played to hold them in that 1-0 game and scoring the late goal. But the Bruins were resilient, and those core guys have been the difference the last two years when it comes down to it."
Have the Leafs closed the gap at all?
"I got to believe they feel like they have. They've improved their team over last season. The Bruins had a much better start than anyone expected this season. I thought there would be a bit of a hangover after losing Game 7 to the Blues on home ice. I thought they were going to struggle to bounce back, but it was the exact opposite. Again, they showed that team toughness and character to have that chip on their shoulder. But, I got to believe the experiences the Leafs have gone through the last few years [will help]. Those young guys are learning what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Bruins have shown that, if you show up every year, sooner or later you figure it out and find the little nuance that gets you over the hump. Once you do that the momentum carries really quickly."
David Pastrnak scored in the game we are replaying and has emerged as a real Leafs killer. From a goalie's perspective, what stands out about the way he puts the puck in the net?
"His ability to beat guys down the wing. There's basically him and [Alex] Ovechkin in the league who are consistently, on a weekly basis, scoring a goal coming down the wing and just shooting the puck. You see that play all the time, but no one scores, and, for whatever reason, those guys find a way with their release. They have a little bit of that knuckle puck in their releases and it's hard for the goalies to pick up. So, his ability to create that goal out of nothing has been what has separated him the last couple of years and, I assume, will continue to separate him."
During the game we're replaying Patrice Bergeron also scored and TSN analyst Ray Ferraro said there may not be anyone in the NHL who plays with a quieter class. How would you describe him? What stands out?
"It's his work ethic, his character and that class. It's something you just have. You can't be taught that, you can't learn it, you just have it and Patrice has always had it. I was his roommate his first year in the NHL and him coming in as a second-round draft pick in 2003 was unheard of. An undersized centre in the NHL in 2003 was almost unheard of, let alone an 18-year-old kid, but he always brought that character and that poise and that understanding of the game. He sees the game five plays ahead of everybody else. It can be understated at times, but his 200-foot game, his character, his ability to find ways to win every night, is what sets him apart. He's going to be a Hall of Famer."
What was it like rooming with him?
"He's perfect. He really is the guy you want your sister or daughter to marry. He is that guy. He's perfect. And he slept a lot. We slept a lot. He was an 18-year-old kid and I remember him just wanting to sleep all the time. He'd eat as fast as he could to get back. He'd sleep 20 hours a day if he could."
Bergeron is a perennial Selke Trophy nominee and winner. During an appearance on the Connor Carrick podcast this week, Marner said that's a goal for him. Do you see that potential?
"I do. I think he has that similar ability to see the play four, five steps ahead. He obviously has the talent, there's no question about that. As you get older and as you get through the league a few times you understand how important that defensive part of the game is going to be. You're playing on a line with Auston Matthews, a shooter and scorer ... there has to be someone back and Mitch certainly has that ability to understand when to go forward, but also understand when he can make that defensive play and change the game that way. So, if that's a goal of his and he's going to set his mind to that then there's no question he has the ability to do it."
Rask has a pretty distinctive personality. What has allowed him to fit in well in Boston?
"The reality is he gets criticized for that here in Boston. He is a bit of a polarizing figure, because he's honest almost all the time ... I've already mentioned Zdeno, Patrice and Krejci, but to have Tuukka there the whole time shows what kind of teammate he is and what kind of character he has. There have been a lot of guys who haven't fit in with this room. There's a lot of guys who just weren't up to the standard of winning here in Boston and that culture that they talk about. But Tuukka has been here through it all with these guys and it shows what kind of teammate he is and what kind of character he has despite sometimes not giving the perfect answer or being 'ho hum' after a loss. The reality is it’s an 82-game season and he's just got to move on to the next one at times. So, I think that’s what the teammates like and respect about Tuukka, he's ready for the next one."