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Rask rewarding Bruins' patience

by James Murphy
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are being amply rewarded for their patience with goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The 23-year-old Finnish goaltender appears to have taken the starting job away from reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas. Rask won his last four starts before the Olympic break, on the season he's 16-10-4, and is first in the NHL with a 2.12 goals-against average and is tied for second in save percentage at .928. All indications are he will play the majority of the Bruins' 12 remaining regular-season games and possibly the playoffs, should the Bruins get there.
"He's played well for us," coach Claude Julien said. "He's done exactly what we expected him to do this year, coming in and being ready when called upon. I think he's done a great job."
When Mark Recchi came to Boston at the 2009 trade deadline, Bruins coaches and players told him he needed to see the team's top goalie prospect -- Rask, then with AHL Providence, when he got the chance. He finally got the opportunity to do so during training camp this season and was impressed.
"I had heard so much about this kid (Rask) and really wanted to see what the hype was about," Recchi recalled. "I knew right away this kid was the real deal. He was so calm out there and just positioned so well. You could tell he was ready and he's only gotten better this season. Even when he wasn't playing for a stretch, he was ready every time he came into the game, and then you've seen how good he's been over this last stretch. I know I and the guys in the room have all the confidence in Tuukka that he can do this in this stretch run and the playoffs."
Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick spent a good portion of the 2007-08 season playing with Rask in Providence, when Rask went 27-13-2 with a 2.33 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Hunwick knew then Rask was the real deal and isn't surprised that after going 33-20-4 with a 2.50 GAA and .920 save percentage last season in Providence, Rask is showing why many believe the Toronto Maple Leafs made a huge mistake when they traded him to Boston for then-Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft in 2006.
Hunwick believes Rask's time in the AHL was vital for his development. He sees an even better goalie than the one he played with in Providence, who was dominant in his first season in North America.

"We were both rookies in Providence together in 2007-08 and he had a great year that first year, tops in the league," Hunwick said. "He knew gaining more experience in the pros here in America, in an American league, that he would just get better and better. He was probably talented enough to play here last year, but it was the situation having two goalies under contract, he had to find his time a little bit and wait."

Hunwick credited Rask for his patience and willingness to swallow his pride for the good of the team and his future.

"He has been working really hard in practice, and you have to give him credit for how hard he has worked and he has definitely earned it," Hunwick said. "He has channeled his emotions better. He is collected and calm when he is in the net, bad goals don't seem to rattle him, and he stays consistent throughout the game. He is a very competitive person, and when a puck goes in the net he is not happy about it at all, but he needs to bounce back after a goal and he does."

Julien also credited Rask for his patience, as well as the patience the Bruins have shown with their prized prospect. In the eyes of many, including Julien, Rask played well enough to make the team in the last two training camps. But because of money and a numbers game, as well as the need for him to get bigger and more seasoned, he was sent down each time.

"Our organization did the right thing being patient with him, and with Timmy playing so well, for a young goaltender it wouldn't have been to his advantage being a back-up then," Julien said. "He had two real solid years in Providence, playing a lot, and got an opportunity to grow. When it was time to take that next step, part of it was not playing as much but being mentally strong and working on that part of his game so when he was called upon he was ready."

Rask helped the team climb out of their worst winless stretch since 1924-25 when they went 10 games without a win from Jan. 16 to Feb. 7. Rask was in net for the final two losses, but helped his team snap the historic skid with a 36-save shutout.

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