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Thursday, April 1, 2010
A fitting honor for Rask

By Matt Kalman

BOSTON -- There’s always a debate among Bruins fans leading up to the announcement of the Seventh Player Award winner about who is most deserving.

Fans vote for the player they deem to have exceeded expectations over the course of the season, and they take pride in making an appropriate selection. Before the name of this year’s winner even left the lips of ceremony emcee Jack Edwards prior to Thursday night’s game at TD Garden, it was obvious the majority of the 17,565 on hand had their preference.

First came the “Toook” chant from the fans. Then Edwards revealed the winner, and the rookie goaltender -- once projected as Boston’s No. 2 behind incumbent Tim Thomas -- skated to the Zamboni entrance to receive his award.

“You know, it’s an honor,” said Rask, who has a 1.99 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 41 games this season although he was a tough-luck loser, 1-0, on Thursday. “It’s something you've really got to appreciate, and what else can I say? It’s an honor.”

It’s too bad that a night that started off with something so positive for Rask had to finish -- like many have -- with frustration. Just 7:15 into the game, Keith Ballard’s one-timer snuck past Rask for what turned out to be the game’s only goal.

“I thought I had it and I started to squeeze it in and suddenly it was in the net,” explained Rask. “It went through my armpit. That’s one of those goals you want to have back. But it’s just one goal and you can’t be perfect.

Unfortunately, most nights the Bruins’ goaltenders -- whether Rask or Thomas -- have had to be nearly perfect to earn even a point in the standings while playing behind the league’s worst offense.

That makes Rask's season all the more impressive. Sure he came to the NHL as the Bruins’ top prospect a few years running with postseason experience in the AHL and some great seasons in the Finnish Elite League on his resume. But to beat out the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner for the No. 1 job and do it in a situation where there’s never any margin for error, that’s a bit of a shock. Let’s face it, even the Bruins brass didn’t know how long it would take for Rask to ascend to the throne, hence the four-year, $20 million contract extension they granted Thomas last spring.

Sure Patrice Bergeron has re-established himself as one of the league’s premier stars after battling concussion problems the last two seasons, and Mark Recchi hasn’t slowed much at age 42. But Rask has thrived while playing the sport’s most demanding position.

None other than last year’s Seventh Player winner, David Krejci, said his successor deserved the award.

“He was great all season as a young goalie starting as a No. 2,” the center said. “The whole time he’s been great, not only in games but in practice. He’s a good guy in the room. I think it’s a good thing he won.”