BOSTON, MA - When Tuukka Rask entered the 2012-13 season, he had been inked to a new one-year contract. With the departure of Tim Thomas, Rask was in line to take over the No. 1 role.
He knew he could do it, his team knew he could do it, the management knew he could do it.
But he still had something to prove.
"I’m just trying to be my best out there, and see where it leads," the netminder had said.
A shortened season and lengthy postseason later, Rask has solidified his status as the Bruins' lead goaltender, the 'backbone' of the team, as often called by his teammates, who are in constant awe of his composure and emotion between the pipes.
With the one-year contract, Rask is set to become a restricted free agent come July 5, when the NHL's free agency period begins. But if the goaltender and his general manager, Peter Chiarelli, had their way, it wouldn't get to that.
"You’d like to get everything done quickly. I don’t know if I’ll have that luxury, but certainly I’ll try just so you have your certainty on your team and cap and all that," said Chiarelli of Rask's extension, during the Bruins' break-up day media availability, before the players part their ways for the offseason.
"He’s obviously had a terrific playoff and we’d like to get him done as soon as we can."
Although the ultimate goal was not reached, that "terrific" postseason included Rask compiling a 1.88 goals-against average and .940 save percentage during his 14-8 stretch. He saved 715 of 761 shots fired on him, and recorded three playoff shutouts, two against the Pittsburgh Penguins and another against the Blackhawks in the Final. Series after series, he was almost impossible for the opponent to solve. Chicago's net-front presence and positioning would find ways to break down the B's defensive layers.
But as GM Peter Chiarelli would say when referencing the big picture, looking down from 30,000 feet, anyone would have liked what they saw. Rask proved himself a game-changer.
"I was 100 percent. I felt really good," Rask told media on the B's break-up day, of how he felt during the playoffs. "I actually felt better and better as the playoffs went on. I was maybe a little bit surprised by that and really happy that I was able to feel that way."
When asked if he also felt that he had finally proven himself, Rask was his candid self.
"I don’t think I have to answer those questions anymore," he casually remarked.
"Played good. Proved everybody again that I was capable of doing it. I mean you look at the numbers. They’re good. If I just analyze my game and by how I felt throughout the year, I thought it was a great year."
Rask's stellar playoffs followed a solid regular season, in which he compiled a 19-10-5 record, finishing the season fourth in goals-against average (1.96) and fifth in save percentage (.927). He was tied for first with five shutouts. He's been a homegrown 'B,' climbing the ranks up through the Providence Bruins.
"I felt really good throughout the season and the playoffs. I mean obviously it was a tough season with the shortened schedule and everything but I felt good," said the netminder. "You can always be better. I mean, I don’t think you can be really satisfied or just stop thinking that you can’t be better and I can’t really answer how much better I can be but I’m definitely trying to be better."
"You always try to play good, but then you are trying to get your average game level as high as you can. That the gap between a good game and a bad game wouldn’t be so big," added Rask, about using a contract extension as motivation.
"I think I managed to do that this year and it motivates me for the next year to keep that level and keep getting better."
He's also hopeful to be moving forward with a solid young core of Bruins that knows what it takes to win.
"For sure, I think the core is there. I think we have done a good job of bringing the younger guys in. They fit in really good," said Rask.
"So I think we just have to keep doing that and keeping our focus on the right things and not letting it slip. So yes,think we have a chance to bring the Cup back soon and keep having success."
As far as the new contract goes for the soon-to-be restricted free agent, he's hoping it happens as soon as possible.
"I am going to go see Peter right now. Have it signed by this afternoon?" he jested.
'So, would you like to sign long-term?' a reporter asked.
"That would be an ideal situation, I think, to play here forever. I hope we can make that happen."