BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask is thrilled to be going to Las Vegas for the first time next month, and he'll likely return with the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie when the NHL holds its annual awards night on June 24 in the desert.
The 27-year-old goaltender for the Boston Bruins performed at his best for the majority of the 2013-2014 season, posting a 36-15-6 record, a 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. He also led the league with seven shutouts.
Backed by solid goaltending, the Bruins performed well in every aspect of the game and earned the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, their success did not carry over into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens ousted Boston from the second round with a Game 7 win on TD Garden ice. Too many defensive breakdowns and mental lapses cost the Bruins the series and a legitimate chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
Rask could have played better than he did, but no one can point the finger at the goalie because the same can be said for nearly everyone on Boston's roster.
"I thought we had a tremendous season," Rask said. "We finished on top of the standings and played a good season. We grew as a team. We had some tough stretches there, but we battled through them. I think the only toughest part is that we couldn't play our best hockey at the most important time of the year. When that happens, then you have to regroup and think about what went wrong and fix those things, but we had a great group of guys and we had a great season. It's just a shame that we let it go to waste, but we've still got to be proud of ourselves the way we played."
Whether he meant it or not, Rask admitted he was outplayed by Montreal goaltender Carey Price, who was tremendous the entire series.
Defensively, Boston's inexperience on the blue line was one of the reasons the Bruins lost the series. That inexperience made it all the more important for Rask to be that Vezina-like goalie and carry the Bruins deep into the playoffs, but it just didn't happen.
"I don't think I was the best hockey [player] ever; there were some goals scored that I could have stopped, but there were some goals scored I pretty much had no chance," he said. "Those things happen, but I felt like I was good enough to give the team a chance to win. Sometimes it is good enough but sometimes it isn't. This year if I was better, maybe we would have won, but there's always could've, should've, would've."
Rask does not lack for confidence. Even after the team's premature exit from the playoffs, he wasn't about to blame himself. When he doesn't play well he'll be the first to admit it, but after the season ended, he focused on the bigger picture.
"I felt like I was good," he said. "It wasn't like I sucked. It would be a different story and I might be more mad at myself, but sometimes you feel like you did enough but it just wasn't very good and I think it was more of a team loss than anybody individually."
Last summer, the Bruins signed Rask to an eight-year deal worth $56 million. At the time, he said he wanted to be worth every penny. He remained true to his word during the regular season and was pleased with his accomplishments.
He played 58 games, which is the most he's ever played at this level. He remained healthy and did not break down.
"I felt good. I felt good throughout the year," he said. "There was a little stretch there before the Olympics when I was at my worst, I think. I didn't suck, but I wasn't great. Throughout the year, I think I felt I was consistent and I felt good. Even Olympics, tough travel there, a few games, I felt good after that. I think it's more of a mental grind, but I didn't feel that I was tired. I think it's just one of those things that you don't even realize you're tired. Your mind just goes somewhere that you don't even recognize, but I felt good."
Rask led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals in 2013, but Boston eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. This season, Rask was one of the best goaltenders in the league and should earn his first Vezina Trophy. But the early exit in the playoffs hurts. Overall, the Bruins are a talented group and should remain a Cup contender for the foreseeable future. Boston will also be only as good as its goaltender.
"We realize that the group we have and the core group we have is not going to be here forever and we really have to make the best out of it and get the wins, but it's weird how it goes," Rask said. "No matter how good of a season you have in the regular season, then things fall into pieces in the playoffs. Some other years, you kind of just make the playoffs and hit your stride in the playoffs. Having this core group and guys getting older, we know that the window is closing and we have to make the most out of these opportunities that we have."