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Tuukka Rask enters season with something to prove

Bruins goalie and teammates facing added scrutiny after missing playoffs past two seasons

by Matt Kalman / Correspondent

BOSTON -- The World Cup of Hockey 2016 worked out great for Team Canada, but it might also benefit the Boston Bruins.

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who competed in the World Cup for Team Finland, might already be in midseason form. The Bruins open the regular season on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; FS-O, NESN).

"The skill is there. The skill hasn't changed," Rask said in response to a question about his improvement after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday. "But I think the World Cup helped. I think you're more ready to play when you're a month and a half into the season already before the season even starts. So that's something I feel more comfortable about and better about myself."

Rask needs a better start to this season than he had in 2015-16, when he started 1-3-1 and allowed 22 goals in those first five games. He recovered to finish with a .915 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average, but the Bruins didn't recover from their slow start and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs by one point. His season was tarnished by his slow start and being too sick to play in the regular-season finale against the Ottawa Senators, when the Bruins needed one point to qualify for the playoffs.

Coming off two seasons without reaching the playoffs, Rask and the Bruins are facing added scrutiny with Rask trying to not bear too much of the burden of Boston's turnaround.

"There's always something to prove. I guess there's more to prove when you don't make the playoffs in a couple of years," Rask said. "But I don't take any extra pressure from that. I know what I'm capable of and what the team is capable of. We're trying to get all the pieces together and everybody working on the same page, and then we can just prove the things as a team."

Video: PHI@BOS: Rask makes a great pad save on Simmonds

The 2014 Vezina Trophy winner joined the Bruins for training camp late because of the World Cup, but fit seamlessly back into his role as their No. 1 goaltender after his arrival. He played two preseason games and had a 1.98 GAA and .925 save percentage. As the Bruins try to integrate a handful of rookies into their lineup and get improved play from several veterans, they're not worried about their goalie.

"Tuukka has a lot of pride in his own game and performance," general manager Don Sweeney said. "He wants to be the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. We spoke about it at the end of the year. He took some time at the end of the year to kind of reassess where he was and where he needed to get back to being, and lead our team as a result of that. Some of the things he can't control he needs to let go and be the player that we expect him to be."

Coach Claude Julien has been impressed, but he still wants to challenge Rask.

"I think he's showing right now that he's definitely focused," Julien said. "I see it in his attitude, I see it in his demeanor. ... Again, when you look at guarantees, anything you buy today has fine print, right. It's hard to guarantee anything. But what you can do is show it. And that's what Tuukka's got to do, he's got to show that he is ready and we'll give him that opportunity."

There are many factors in front of Rask on the ice that will influence his performance. The Bruins could have two rookies on defense, but they're hoping to minimize mistakes by implementing a more aggressive but simpler system. In an attempt to cut down on opposing plays down low and around the net, the defensemen are being instructed to attack the puck carrier quicker. The addition of veteran forwards David Backes and Dominic Moore is also expected to take some of the burden off the defense.

Nonetheless, there will be growing pains. Rask will be expected to bail out the Bruins on occasion, and he'll bear the brunt of the criticism. He knows he has to be better this season than last, and he's worked on all aspects of his game in an effort to make sure he doesn't let the Bruins down.

"I'd like to move the puck better and make better decisions with that," Rask said. "But every goalie will tell you they want to be calm and they want to be poised out there, so I think that's the biggest thing. But it's very simple. You just try to stop the puck as much as you can and get better that way. So that's what I've been working on."

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