Serving as one half of an NHL-dominating goaltending duo is nothing new to Boston Bruins netminder Manny Fernandez.
Back in the 2002-03 season, Fernandez combined with Dwayne Roloson to carry the Minnesota Wild all the way to the Western Conference finals. Fernandez appeared in 35 regular-season games to Roloson’s 50 and Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire nearly split the postseason games evenly — with Fernandez getting nine and Roloson 11.
Now Fernandez and Tim Thomas are the best goaltending tandem in the league –with Fernandez just ahead of Thomas for second place in the goals-against average rankings (2.02 to 2.04) and Thomas slightly ahead of Fernandez for third in save percentage (.935 to .930). With just an occassional alteration to his pattern, Bruins head coach Claude Julien, whose team rides a 10-game winning streak into Saturday’s tilt with Buffalo, has stuck to a straight rotation. And that’s made it easier for Fernandez to find his groove.
“I just don’t worry so much, in a sense that I get the nod, I go in there and I do my best knowing fair well that Timmy’s going to play the next game,” he told thebruinsblog.net after practice today at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. “So it’s not as if I’m getting in trouble with myself with extra thinking. And the team’s doing well, so it’s tough not to go in there and have fun and play your games.”
Fernandez agreed that the situation with Thomas is similar to the one he thrived in with Roloson. The key, he says, is making the most of each opportunity when it comes your way.
“You can leave it all out there – that’s a positive,” said Fernandez, who today was rewarded when the NHL named him and Thomas Co-First Star of the Month for December. “That’s what I said at the beginning (of the season). You know you’re not going to play the next game – there’s a good chance of seeing the next guy – then you can just go all out, empty the tank. So you have one game to concentrate and then take a rest and go back at it.”
Julien has also created a more comfortable atmosphere for Fernandez by giving the 34-year-old a day’s notice about his starts. That wasn’t always the case in Minnesota.
“I remember in Minnesota there was one time I didn’t even take the warm-up. And (Lemaire) came in after the warm-up and asked me if I knew I was playing. So it got to that point,” recalled Fernandez. “Here I’ve got a good relationship with Claude. He tells me the day before. I think he’s got some sort of thing with Timmy. He doesn’t want to jinx it. And that’s the way he’s going. In a way we kind of know anyway. If I don’t know by now, there’s a good chance that Timmy’s playing.”
Fernandez also said he’s as supportive of Thomas as he was of Roloson — no matter who’s playing in a particular game. While he tries to stay out of Thomas’ way, Fernandez says that any time Thomas needs something he’s there for him.
It seems like eons ago that Fernandez was struggling back from his December ’07 knee surgery. Now he’s finding the form the Bruins envisioned for him when they acquired him before last season. He’s won 13 of his 16 starts and is a perfect 9-0-0 at home.
Perhaps the only area he and his teammates need to tighten up is in the starts department. The Bruins have outscored their opponents by 23 in the second period and 16 in the third stanza, but are just a plus-9 in the first period. Of the 33 goals Fernandez has allowed this season, 17 have found the back of the net during the game’s first 20 minutes.
“We’ve been so strong in the third period and second period, we try to be as tight as possible. If there’s any chance for the opposition, obviously they want to get off the block as quick as possible,” Fernandez explained when asked to ponder the Bruins’ first-period numbers. “Maybe that’s a reflection of that. You’re going to have to give them up some time, so better in the first probably than the last. Those stats come and go and that’s a reflection of how you play. But I think first period is better than third period.”
No matter what period, Fernandez hasn’t let in many goals. And if he keeps up his current attitude and both netminders maintain their high level of play, the best goatlender tandem around will keep the Bruins on top of the NHL.