Commentary

Tuukka Rask ready to be the man

B's top goaltender says he's healthy and eager to take on 'great challenge'

Updated: January 7, 2013, 9:38 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The stage is set for Tuukka Rask to become the No. 1 goaltender for the Boston Bruins this season, and possibly beyond.

Soon after Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas decided to sit out the 2012-13 season in order to spend more time with his family, Boston's general manager Peter Chiarelli signed the 25-year-old Rask to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million last June.

Whether there was a work stoppage or not, Rask was given one season to prove his worth before the possibility of signing a long-term deal in Boston. Now that the puck will finally drop sometime this month, Rask will have a tough task given the number of games he'll have to play in a short period of time. He's ready.

"I haven't seen the schedule, but I'm assuming it's going to be every other day," Rask said. "The workload's going to be big, but that's why you work out during the summer, and for me, I went to play overseas to stay sharp and in game shape. It shouldn't be an issue.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Petr Eret/CTK/AP ImagesPlaying eight games in the Czech Republic this winter, Rask posted a 6-2-0 record along with a 1.85 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.

"I like it better, obviously. You might get tired, fatigued at some point, but I've always liked to play and it's a great challenge for me this year. And hopefully we can make the most out of it."

Since returning from the Czech Republic, where he played eight games and posted a 6-2-0 record with a 1.85 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage, Rask has been skating at Boston University with some of his teammates and other local NHLers in order to remain in shape until the CBA was settled. Now that the season has been salvaged, the Bruins are in a good position to have success. Nearly the entire roster has remained intact for the last few seasons (minus Thomas, of course). "The biggest thing is to have a good start, for every team," Rask said. "I'm sure we're going to talk about that as a team when we get together, make sure we get off on the right foot and get the ball rolling the right way. But as a goalie, it's going to be a tough challenge physically and mentally and it's good we have good goalies in this organization that can help out." One aspect of Boston's success the last few seasons has been its strong goaltending. The tandem of Thomas and Rask helped the Bruins finish atop the Northeast Division the last two seasons and helped win them a Stanley Cup in 2011. While Thomas played the bulk of the minutes, Rask served as a solid backup. The two had a strong relationship and that helped the Bruins win games.

Rask said he has attempted to contact Thomas this winter, but to no avail.

"I tried to call him the other week, but I think he changed his number," Rask said. "I need to find that number and give him a shout."

With Thomas out of the picture, Anton Khudobin will serve as Rask's partner this season. There's already some familiarity between them, and Rask believes their relationship will continue to grow. He also tried to contact Khudobin recently, but didn't have any luck.

"He's in Russia; I don't even know what kind of number he's got there," Rask said. "I hope he comes back if they don't keep him there.

"You never know about those Russian guys, they might not let you go," Rask said with a smile. "I saw a couple of games, actually, when I was in Czech. Their team was having a tough time, they fired their coach and stuff, but he played a lot of games and looked good. Hopefully he gets here."

When Rask suffered an abdominal/groin injury late last season, Khudobin was recalled on April 2 from Providence and remained in Boston for the rest of the season. He also served as Thomas' backup for the first five games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Washington Capitals before Rask returned for Games 6 and 7.

During the offseason, the Bruins signed Khudobin to a one-way deal, assuring the Kazakhstan netminder would play in Boston this season. Once minicamp begins, Rask and Khudobin hope the transition will be seamless and they'll be able to keep the last line of defense solid for the Bruins. Rask knows that their working relationship will be critical to the team's success.

"I think it's a big thing for every team," Rask said. "We've had good luck with goalies. Timmy and me got along very well. I know [Khudobin] for a couple of years too, and he's a great guy. I don't expect us to have any issues in that matter."

Rask I didn't get hurt. It was a bad scoop. I'm 100 percent. I'm feeling good. I've been working out here [at BU], getting a good skate in every day with these guys and everything feels good.

-- Tuukka Rask, on reports that he suffered a groin injury playing in the Czech Republic

This won't be Rask's first time as the No. 1 goalie in Boston. While Thomas was battling a hip injury late in the 2009-10 season, Rask was leaned on down the stretch and into the playoffs. He outdueled the Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals that season, but Boston lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in disastrous fashion in the conference semifinals.

The Bruins had a 3-0 series lead before it lost in seven games with Rask between the pipes the entire round.

Thomas played every playoff game during the Stanley Cup run in 2011 and his performance was historically exceptional. Along with his Vezina Trophy (second of his career), Thomas was also awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.

In 2012, Thomas played all seven playoff games before the Bruins lost to the Capitals.

Now that Thomas is in hibernation, it's time for Rask to step up.

Despite reports that he suffered another groin injury while playing this winter, Rask said he's healthy and ready to play.

"I didn't get hurt," he said. "It was a bad scoop. I'm 100 percent. I'm feeling good. I've been working out here [at BU], getting a good skate in every day with these guys, and everything feels good."

When he signed that one-year deal in June, he felt it would be his best option. He knew if he could perform well this season, a long-term contract could be in the works. But with a shortened season, that could have an effect on future talks because he'll be a restricted free agent again next summer. For now, he's concentrating only on this season.

"You still have to play good, no matter what," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's one game or 80 games. We'll see what happens. I'm just trying to be my best out there and see where it leads."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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