WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Tales of the Boston Bruins' run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship will feature one goaltender.
Tim Thomas wrote his name into NHL history and Boston folklore with his heroic goaltending through four series, including three that went seven games.
But there were two goaltenders on that legendary Bruins squad. And Tuukka Rask had a front-row seat for all the amazing feats of his predecessor in the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender job.
From starter to understudy and now back to No. 1, Tuukka Rask has a chance for postseason glory with the Boston Bruins. (Photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI)
"Playoffs are a fun time every year," Rask said. "I didn't play, but I was still a part of it. I learned something new, and I think it's just a great situation to have that challenge and that opportunity to make it a good run. That's what everybody tries to do, and that's our goal too. So it's exciting times."
With Thomas now property of the New York Islanders, it's Rask's turn to take the Bruins into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he hopes to apply some of the lessons learned.
"It's a different season," he said. "A lot of little things matter -- a little bounce here or there can cost you a season or win you the Cup. So I think it's just getting that mindset that you stay focused throughout the games and the whole playoffs and not get carried away about good games or bad games."
This won't be Rask's first venture as the Bruins' go-to goaltender in the playoffs. Ever since the Bruins acquired his rights in a draft-day trade in 2006, the organization has groomed him to be its starter. A first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005, Rask blossomed at every level, from his time in the Finnish league to the American Hockey League then finally in the NHL in 2009-10 with the Bruins. As a rookie, Rask led the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
With Thomas nursing a hip injury and unable to play up to his standards, Rask clearly was the goaltender the Bruins wanted in the crease. He led Boston past the Buffalo Sabres in the first round, but disaster struck in the second round when the Philadelphia Flyers rallied from three games down to win the series in seven games and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rask brushes off questions about 2010 with the same poise with which he makes pressure-packed saves late in games. His boilerplate response is typically some combination of "it doesn't matter," and, "I don't think about it." Goaltenders have to have a short memory, and Rask has that skill down.
It's that demeanor that makes him a goaltender who posted a 2.00 GAA and .929 save percentage this season, and earns Rask the full confidence of his teammates heading into the playoffs, which start for the Bruins on Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, RDS).
"I think Tuukka's a little more in control," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said while comparing Rask to Thomas. "He's more of a calming influence. He's really consistent, so we know what we're getting from him. There's never any guesswork with [Rask]."
Now 26, Rask's immature side still sometimes peeks out. His over-the-top reactions to shootout goals allowed, which include stick and bench door slams, are YouTube gold. This season, Rask really made the video rounds when his slam of his stick against the boards resulted in him getting planted on his rear end. Rask said he doesn't take himself too seriously, and Thornton can attest that next-morning joking is taken the right way.
Rolling with the verbal jabs isn't the only way Rask shows that his sometime childish on-ice reactions aren't really who he is.
"He's a calmer guy and he's a real humble guy," Bruins coach Claude Julien said while referring to a loss in April that Rask blamed on himself. "So he's a guy who's not afraid to step up and take the blame. For that reason, too, it was important for me to put him back in and give him that chance to bounce back, which he did extremely well. So they're different personalities [Rask and Thomas], but at the same time Timmy brought us a lot of good things, including a championship, and we hope Tuukka can do the same."
While a championship is Rask's immediate goal, he knows he has a grand prize waiting for him this summer. Rask bet on himself last summer when he agreed to a one-year contract extension as a restricted free agent. He'll be a restricted free agent again after this season, but with arbitration rights, Rask's next deal should make him rich and set for quite some time. After all, the Bruins didn't groom him all these years to have him leave just as he's hitting his prime.
"I'm sure they had a goal all along," Rask said. "And for a young guy sometimes it can be frustrating to just sit back and wait for your opportunity. But at the end of the day, it's all about learning new things and being patient. It paid off so far, so no regrets on that."