BOSTON -- With only two exhibition games remaining in the preseason schedule, the Boston Bruins still have two goalies -- Niklas Svedberg and Chad Johnson -- in camp battling for the backup role behind starter Tuukka Rask.
That No. 2 role will be as important as ever for the Bruins this season.
In years past, Bruins coach Claude Julien would describe the team's goaltending status as having two No. 1 netminders in Tim Thomas and Rask. It's been a luxury for Boston. A season ago, Rask played 36 of the 48 games during the lockout-shortened schedule, with then-backup Anton Khudobin playing the rest.
This season will be different for both Rask and the Bruins.
Realistically, Rask should be able to play close to 60 games in his first full 82-game season as the Bruins' No. 1 goalie. The main factor why he should log that kind of ice time is his new eight-year contract worth $56 million.
What Rask and the Bruins would like to avoid is the burnout factor. Finding a balance between giving him the proper ice time and rest is critical to the team's success. While the organization probably has a certain number of games in mind, Rask said that's one goal he did not set for himself this season.
"I haven't thought about it, really," Rask said. "Obviously, it's going to be a little different schedule [than the shortened 2012-13 season] with more breaks, so you'll be able to play a good amount of games. But again, it's been good for us, it's been working for us to have two good goalies and it's important to have both the guys playing and feeling good about themselves. I haven't set up a goal for myself, so we'll just see how the season plays out."
The other aspect Rask is aware of is the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. If he plays for his native Finland during the games in mid-February, the international pressure and travel could also affect how he plays if the Bruins earn a postseason berth. Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller learned that first-hand in 2010. He led Team USA to the gold-medal game before losing to Canada. Overall, Miller played six games in the Olympics in Vancouver. Once the Stanley Cup playoffs arrived that season, Rask and the Bruins defeated Miller and the Sabres in six games.
During the 2009-10 season, Rask played a career-high 45 regular-season games and another 13 in the postseason. He was worn down by the time the Philadelphia Flyers erased a 3-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals to win that historic series in seven games.
Rask watched from the bench as Thomas led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 2011. Rask then took that experience and helped the Bruins reach their second Cup finals in a three-year span in 2013. The Chicago Blackhawks won that series and hoisted the Cup on TD Garden ice.
Still, Rask was awarded a long-term, lucrative deal with the Bruins last summer. This team and these fans are expecting more from Rask than ever before.
"You obviously have high expectations with big contracts and you have to be really good, there's no other way to put it," Rask said. "From the outside it creates more focus on you and people are going to watch you more and more and how you play. For myself, [the contract] doesn't change my mindset. I want to be worth every penny. I want to produce out there and give the team a chance to win every night."
If Rask can remain healthy for the entire season, Svedberg, Johnson or even prospect Malcolm Subban will need to supply at least 20 solid performances. No matter who the backup is, it will be a different dynamic this season than years past.
"It could be, but you always want to have two good goalies, no matter what the situation is, and you obviously can't pay both goalies the same amount of money if [the No. 1] guy is making a lot, so you try to get that guy who is your No. 1A kind of cheap and he can play," Rask said. "If it's Chad or Nik, both are really good goalies and they've both shown they can play in the NHL and we're going to have a good time sharing the net this year and having that luxury for our time."
Johnson, 27, has spent the majority of his career in the AHL and has 10 games of NHL experience between the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes. He signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $600,000 in July.
Svedberg, 23, was outstanding for the Providence Bruins last season, recording a 37-8-2 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 48 regular-season games. He's still on an entry-level contract with the Bruins, but if he sticks in Boston he'll count for nearly $1 million against the cap.
Subban, the team's first-rounder (24th overall) in the 2012 draft, is entering his first pro season and is expected to log plenty of time between the pipes in Providence. Having both Subban and Svedberg in Providence could be counterproductive for their development, unless they split time equally in net.
At the start of camp, Julien told all the goalies they would each get at least one full preseason game. Svedberg will play the entire game Thursday in Winnipeg, while Rask will close out the exhibition season Friday in Saskatoon.
Svedberg is a man of few words and would rather have his play do all the talking. He said he's looking forward to playing a full game.
"I've felt good during camp," Svedberg said. "Obviously, I've got some stuff to work on. It's still early on in the season and I'm looking forward to the game [Thursday]. You can never get the real game situation in practice, but it's been good so far."
With time dwindling before the final roster is determined before the season opener on Oct. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden, Svedberg says he's only concerned with playing his game.
"Obviously, there are only two spots so I have to focus on my game," he said. "I just try to make the best out of my situation. It's up to me to play my best game and then we'll see after that."
His fate could be determined by Thursday's exhibition game.
"That's the way it is and you have to try to take advantage of the chance you get," Svedberg said. "That's the way it is at every level and you have to make the best of them."
Johnson has already played his preseason games and will be limited to practice the rest of the way before Julien and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli make the final decision on the backup goalie.
"I've put my time in and have had success at this level and now it's waiting for that opportunity to help an NHL team win hockey games," Johnson said. "Hopefully that's my job here this year."
Having a limited amount of game time to impress Julien, goalies can talk all they want about the importance of practice, but the coach evaluates them on what he sees during a game. Thursday will be Svedberg's time to showcase his skills.
"Well, to be honest with you I don't put too much value in those practices," Julien said. "I said it before, there's guys that get lit up in practice but you can't get a puck by them in the game and vice-versa. It's evaluating guys in game situations; as long as he has good work ethic in practice and has a good attitude I'm good with that but at the end of the day, it's what you do in game situations. So this is the opportunity, we're going to have to see him tomorrow."
Rask knows what his role is with the Bruins and he'll try to keep it that way for the duration of his contract. As a No. 1 goalie, he's learned it's important to keep in good shape and remain relatively healthy in order to produce during games. His preparation hasn't changed too much over the years, but he now knows what to expect in the long and arduous season.
While he hasn't set a goal for the number of games he plays this season, he'll try to avoid the burnout factor.
"That's out there every year," admitted Rask. "Even last year we didn't have that many games but we played every other night and it takes a lot mentally to be focused every night, and then to be able to shake those games off and focus on the next one and not letting yourself burn out. I don't think this year is going to be any different. The mental and physical fatigue is going to be there, it's an aspect, but you're professional and you have to deal with it."