— Any NHL player would say that the Stanley Cup is the most desired, most significant piece of hardware they could possibly win.
But they would also say it’s nice to be considered for some of the individual trophies as well.
Hockey is the ultimate team sport, and when you have three players who are nominated for three of the highest possible individual honors, it is likely that your team is in pretty good shape.
That was the story of the Boston Bruins in 2013-14. They had a number of players excelling and executing with the utmost proficiency, and that translated into one of the team’s strongest regular-season performances in history. The Bruins earned 117 points, the top seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs and also claimed the Presidents’ Trophy.
While you could point to a handful of Bruins who achieved personal bests this season, three stood out from the crowd: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask, who were nominated for the Selke Trophy, the Norris Trophy and the Vezina Trophy, respectively.
Consistency has always been a staple of Bergeron’s game, and 2013-14 was one of the most consistent campaigns of his 10-year career. It marked the second 30-goal season of his career, the last one coming in 2005-06. He, along with Jarome Iginla, led the Bruins in goals and embarked on a 12-game point streak from March 17 to April 8, coinciding with the team’s most dominant stretch of the season.
During that streak — which marks the third-longest in Bruins history — Bergeron registered eight goals.
That streak wasn’t the only milestone Bergeron achieved this year. He also played in his 600th career game as a Bruin, and he earned the second gold medal of his career as part of Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The most significant component of Bergeron’s game has always been his two-way game. It is something he has always focused on, always taken pride in and always tried to instill in the rest of his teammates. To be a successful Bruins forward, you must be able to be successful at both ends of the ice, in both zones — and Bergeron was this season, as always, posting a plus-38 rating, second only to David Krejci’s plus-39.
“I think I’ve always been taught to play the game that way, both sides of the ice,” Bergeron said. “Growing up in junior, my coaches put a lot of emphasis on that, and I’ve tried to work on faceoffs as well. I came in the league, and guys like Ted Donato and all the guys that were taking a lot of pride in that aspect of the game and helped me through it. And just obviously with the coaching staff here right now, that’s something they put a lot of work on and I’m trying to get better at it.”
As one of the perennial best defensive forwards in the NHL, this isn’t Bergeron’s first Selke nomination: He won it in 2012, came in second in the voting in 2013 and is once again up for the honor this season.
“He’s well deserving of that,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “He has been for years now — always up there in the plus-minus, always plays against top players, produces got 30 goals this year, so that’s playing against top lines. I can’t find a better candidate than him, and [he] certainly deserves a nomination. So from there, we’ll see where he goes, but in our regards, he’s been the best.”
Like Bergeron, Chara has been a seemingly permanent fixture in the Norris Trophy discussion for years. The captain hasn’t always been the flashiest defenseman — but that’s just fine with him. In his eyes, when he is doing his job, he is excelling as a shut-down D-man. Of course, he takes pride in his offense, but his primary focus is his work on the back end.
“I said it many times, that I’m not going to be a guy who’s going to put up some highlight-reel goals or plays,” Chara said after receiving the nomination. “I have once in a while, but I’m not going to try to run around the ice and chase the points, or I’m not going to be taking risks. Playing against top lines, I want to do it the right way and I want to play the game the right way.
“I always take a lot of pride in my defensive game. I want to to be always strong defensively and take care of my zone before I jump up and help the offense. Obviously you have to be able to do both, but I’m not going to be changing chances just because I want to be getting more points. I like to work really hard, and I enjoy competing against top lines, top players in this league. So I want to do it the right way, and that’s the way I think it’s always been for me.”
Still, this season, Chara’s 17 goals were the second-most of his career, and he excelled on the power play, where he transitioned from the point man to a net-front presence and racked up 10 goals.
He also had a couple of milestones along the way: He played in his 1,100th NHL game on January 14, and his 500th NHL point came on January 27.
“It’s obviously a huge honor,” Chara said of the nomination. “It’s one of those things that you’re very proud of and it’s something that you need to have the whole team working towards the same direction and working together, and it’s a reflection of the whole season — having a steady and strong season as a team. That’s why we have a number of guys nominated. I’m very humbled and obviously it’s a huge honor to be nominated.”
Goaltender Tuukka Rask rounds out the Bruins’ NHL award nominees after he posted a career year of his own. Though it seems like Rask has been a staple of this team for years, 2013-14 marked his first full season as the starting goalie — but he picked up right where he left off in last season’s stellar run to the Stanley Cup Final. This year, Rask did what every NHL team hopes its goaltender can do: He gave the B's an opportunity to win each and every time he took his place between the pipes.
Rask started a career-high 58 games this season and posted a .930 save percentage — second-best in the league — and a 2.04 goals-against average, which ranked fourth in the league. His seven shutouts were the most in the NHL, and he is now tied for seventh place on the Bruins’ all-time shutouts list. It was no surprise when he earned the first Vezina nomination of his career on April 25.
“It’s a great honor to be nominated,” Rask said. “You dream about these individual awards when you’re a kid, too. It’s great recognition, but everybody knows were a team-first team and [the Vezina] is something that comes after the biggest trophy.”
Rask also led Team Finland to a bronze medal in Sochi, going 3-1 with a 1.73 GAA and a .938 save percentage. He saved his best for last, posting a 5-0 shutout in the medal game.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Julien said of Rask’s nomination. “He’s had such a good year. He has been so good for us, and he has had an unbelievable season. He did well at the Olympics for his team, too, but this is based on the NHL.
“I just think he has had a great year and would be really disappointed had he not been one of the three nominees.”