Bruins goalie Rask evolving into one of game's best

Thursday, 05.23.2013 / 1:40 PM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- There's reason to believe Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has the ice in his veins that's required to play the toughest position. It's also not too far-fetched to believe the 26-year-old Finn has what it takes to lead his team to a second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

Rask quietly has become a tower of strength for the Bruins this postseason. Has he made fans forget about Tim Thomas, winner of the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies along with the Stanley Cup two years ago?

Well, probably not.

But there's a sense the Boston crease has become his domain, just as it was for Thomas during that incredible run in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he turned aside a playoff-record 798 shots.

"He's been playing well," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Rask. "He's been a solid goalie for us, but so was Tim Thomas when he played for us and [Anton] Khudobin [as backup this season]. You have to credit the guys in front of our goalie for how well they played. As much as you want to give the goalie credit, the goalie would be the first one to say that the guys are doing a good job in front and that's where our team has good balance."

Still, Rask has emerged as a premier puck-stopper this postseason because when the Bruins have needed him most, he's been equal to the task.

"When Timmy was here he played well, but now we have [Rask] and we don't talk about Timmy," Bruins leading scorer David Krejci told NHL.com. "I think [Rask] is playing really well. To me, he's one of the best goalies in the League. I know he didn't get a Vezina Trophy nomination, but to me he's one of the best in the League. He's proven it night in and night out."

Rask never wilted in the face of elimination in the third period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when his team began mounting its memorable comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"My confidence is always high," Rask said. "That's just how I try to be. No matter what happens, I try to stay calm and even-keeled. Confidence can't go any lower or higher, I think."

Now, he's relishing his matchup against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist while playing a key role in providing his team a 3-0 series lead in the conference semifinals heading into Game 4 on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS). In three straight victories against the Rangers, he sports a 1.53 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.

Perhaps forgotten in Boston's 5-2 victory against the Rangers in Game 2 at TD Garden was the fact Rask was called upon to make 15 saves in the second period, including several timely stops off odd-man rushes, when his team was nursing a one-goal lead. He stopped all 11 shots in his direction during a tense opening 20 minutes of Game 3 at Madison Square Garden, helping his team settle down en route to a 2-1 triumph.

While much has been made of the play of some other goaltenders in this year's playoffs, among them 2013 Vezina Trophy finalists Lundqvist and the San Jose Sharks' Antti Niemi, Rask has done his share to earn a bit of the spotlight.

"I think he's probably been our best player," Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. "Every game he's come up huge for us with big saves. I don't think there's really been a game where you could say Tuukka blew it or he should have had that one.

"I think he's been really good and the fact not a lot of people are talking about him, it probably shows how underrated he is. I think when you get to play with him and shoot against him in practice, only then do you realize how good he is."

Rask entered the playoffs with a 7-6 record and .912 save percentage from his previous starting assignment in the postseason for the Bruins, in 2010. He's already matched that seven-win playoff total this year, and has a 2.19 GAA and .930 save percentage in 10 games. He enters games Thursday having faced the second-most shots of any playoff goalie (330), but has made the second-most saves (307).

In fact, Rask's 2013 playoff statistics are very similar to those of Thomas in 2011 through 10 playoff games. Thomas also was 7-3 and owned a 2.30 GAA and .929 save percentage. He faced 355 shots and made 332 stops.

The only blemish on Rask's postseason resume came during Boston's epic collapse in the second round in 2010, when the Philadelphia Flyers rallied from an 0-3 deficit to defeat the Bruins in seven games.

That's something he knows cannot happen again, and one reason he appeared as focused as ever during Boston's game-day practice at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. The Bruins can close the series in Game 4 on Thursday night in Manhattan.

For young players such as defenseman Torey Krug, Rask has been a major influence.

"The game is a lot easier when the goaltender is talking to you," Krug said. "Every time I go back for pucks, he's in my ear, giving me my options. It's great and he's very confident and calm back there. I know I have the ability to take risks I normally might not take because I know [Rask] is back there and he'll make a big save."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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