When Tim Thomas took his sabbatical during the 2013 Lockout shortened season, heir apprentice Tuukka Rask had big shoes to fill. Well, all he did was play a stellar 2013 campaign and that carried over into the postseason, where he helped the Boston Bruins get to their second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three years.
With his stellar play, Rask earned quite the payday in the off-season; signing an 8-year deal worth $7 million per season. That deal, at least in the first year, is reaping benefits for the Finnish netminder, GM Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Black and Gold.
“You know, I feel good. I feel like I wasn’t a disappointment,” Rask said. “You just try to be as good as people think you are and you think you are. So I accomplished that in the regular season and there’s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”
Rask’s regular season stats speak for them self. He led the league with seven shutouts and was in the top five in the other major categories including save percentage (.930, good for second), goals against average (forth at 2.04) and wins (36, good for fifth).
That regular season success carried over into the first four games of the postseason for Rask, where he’s held the high-powered Red Wings to just four goals in four games. In that span, he has an astonishing save percentage of .966 and a 0.96 goals against average.
To no surprise, head coach Claude Julien was supportive of Rask getting the nod as a Vezina finalist.
“To me, it’s a no brainer, he’s had such a good year,” said the seventh-year Bruins’ bench boss. “He has had such a good year for us and he has had an unbelievable season.”
“He’s an unbelievable goalie,” added defenseman Matt Bartkowski. “I have no doubt he’s the best goalie in the league. Through the playoffs so far, he’s showing it.”
One of the concerns going into the season for Rask regarded his health. Prior to this season, he had not started more than 50 games during his career. This year, he got to 58.
Another concern was how he would handle himself after representing Team Finland in the Olympics. Well, after leading the Finns to a bronze medal in Sochi, his game continued to improve when he returned to Boston.
“I think it was a confidence booster for sure,” Rask said about winning the bronze. “Getting a medal and playing good hockey there helped a lot. It’s not so much a physical rest there, obviously, but it’s a change of scenery, and then when you play good there, you kind of feel that you want to keep that going. For myself and the other guys, too, it was really a confidence booster and I just tried to hold on to that feeling and play good.”
Rask not only played good when he returned, he played great. As a result, he got his first Vezina nomination, and he gets to go to Las Vegas for the first time in his life.
“It’s a great honor to be nominated,” Rask said. “It’s a great recognition, but everybody knows it’s a team-first team and it’s something that comes after the biggest trophy. But I feel honored to be going to Vegas for the first time.”
One piece of advice for Rask, if he needs it: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
One piece of advice that Rask doesn’t need: what happens on the ice can be a lasting memory. For Tuukka, that lasting memory would be another taste at Lord’s Stanley Cup.