Joe McDonald: Now that the starting job is his, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask needs to be that elite player the organization has always hoped he could be.
He’s shown it in spurts as the backup for Tim Thomas, but Rask hasn’t achieved the level of consistency that a goalie needs to help his team be successful. He has that chance this season.
Ever since the Bruins acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for netminder Andrew Raycroft in June of 2006, Rask has been patiently waiting for the opportunity to be the No. 1 goaltender in Boston.
For the better part of the previous three seasons, Rask as served as the backup for Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner. During that time, coach Claude Julien repeatedly described his goaltending status by saying the Bruins had two No. 1 goaltenders, even though it was clear who the main starter was.
When Thomas decided last June that he would sit out the 2012-2013 season in order to spend more time with his family, it didn’t take long for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to show his support for Rask as the team’s starting goaltender. The Bruins signed Rask to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million last June, a deal that satisfied both sides. Basically, if Rask wants a long-term deal in Boston, he’ll have a shortened 48-game schedule to prove his worth.
The support Rask is receiving from his teammates has been outstanding. They all believe he has the ability and the talent to lead this team in the post-Thomas era. Sure, Rask has the ability, but he has yet to prove it on a constant basis.
During the 2010 playoffs, he was the starting goalie because Thomas had a hip injury that would require surgery to repair a torn labrum in May of 2010. Rask outdueled the Buffalo Sabres and goaltender Ryan Miller in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Bruins held a 3-0 series lead with Rask between the pipes, but the Flyers mounted one of the greatest comebacks in NHL playoff history and won the series in seven games.
The following season, Thomas was healthy and played 57 regular-season games, then another 25 in the playoffs, to lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. He played a total of 59 games during the 2011-2012 season, as Rask was limited to 23 games.
Rask made it no secret that he wanted more playing time, but the reason the Bruins have been successful in recent history was largely due to the chemistry between he and Thomas. Rask said recently he and new goaltending partner Anton Khudobin get along well, too, and there won’t be any drop-off in success between the pipes.
This is Rask’s opportunity to finally prove he can be an elite goalie on a consistent basis in the NHL.
James Murphy: I'm not sure anyone can forget about Tim Thomas based on everything he did as a Bruin -- mostly positive, but some negative, too. But I do believe Rask will erase doubts anyone has about whether he can assume the No. 1 goalie spot.
It’s easy to forget that Rask was the team’s No. 1 goalie for the second half of the 2009-10 season before Thomas reclaimed the job early in the 2010-11 campaign. Having your job seized from you and knowing all you can do is wait for your opportunity can either crush or motivate you. Seeing the passion Rask has for the game and the determination he has to be the best, I believe the latter is the case with him.
But the only question -- and I'm sure it's one many have -- is whether he's durable enough to handle the starting role. Rask has had some groin issues and other injury problems over the last year, and groin injuries are especially worrisome for goalies. He also appeared to wear down in the 2010 playoffs after going 22-12-5 with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage in the regular season. After building a 3-0 lead against the Flyers in the conference semifinals, Rask and the Bruins lost the next four games. But Rask has the mental fortitude and the skill to be a stud between the pipes, and the 48-game schedule could help from a durability standpoint. I expect Rask to be the least of the Bruins' problems this season.