CHICAGO — Corey Crawford was in the stands when Patrick Kane's overtime goal secured the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks in 2010. A year later, Tuukka Rask was a practice player when Tim Thomas led the Bruins to the title.
Tonight, they will be in net when the Blackhawks host the Bruins in Game 1 of the Cup final.
"Once you've seen it and not being on the ice, I think everybody would like to have that chance someday," Rask said. "I'm just trying to make the most out of it and enjoy myself."
The rise of Rask and Crawford is a testament to the patience and steady approach of the Bruins and Blackhawks. And it's no coincidence each seeks to become the first with two Stanley Cups in the salary cap era.
Rask, 26, was a first-round selection (21st overall) by Toronto in 2005. Boston got him in a trade for goalie Andrew Raycroft a year later.
Rask took over this season, after Thomas decided to take a year off. Once the Finn got off to a great start, the rights to Thomas were traded to the Islanders.
The 6-foot-2 Rask helped the Bruins finish second in the Northeast then raised his game to another level in the playoffs. He shut down high-scoring Pittsburgh in the East final, allowing just two goals and recording a .985 save percentage in a sweep.
"He's just, I think, fundamentally a good goalie," Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said. "As far as positioning and his style, he has a very consistent style. So he doesn't really get himself into too many bad situations."
Antti Niemi, another Finnish goalie who is good friends with Rask, was in net when the Blackhawks won the title in 2010. But he signed with San Jose in the ensuing offseason while Chicago worked through salary cap issues.
The Blackhawks signed Marty Turco to start and planned to have Crawford, a second-round pick in 2003, back him up. Those plans eventually fell apart, and the 6-2 Crawford earned the starting nod. He won at least 30 games in each of his first two seasons in a regular role then went 19-5 with a career-best 1.94 goals-against average this year.
"He's had a lot to overcome," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Whether it's been fighting for position, fighting for jobs, I think he's kept his composure."
With Crawford, 28, the Blackhawks lost in the first round in each of the previous two seasons.
"I'd say I learned a lot, especially some of the goals I gave up last year I wasn't very happy with," Crawford said. "Just able to learn from that. Get over it, and move on. No matter what happens, there's always a next shot.
"So you have to make sure you're there to save the next one."