BOSTON (CBS) – Considering the nearly super-human efforts Tim Thomas performed most of the last several seasons to raise the Bruins to the prominence as an elite NHL team and snap a 39-year championship drought, there’s no player in black and gold more vital to this year’s squad that Tuukka Rask.
Rask’s second attempt to fortify his position as the Bruins’ No. 1 goaltender (he also played 45 games, plus every postseason contest in 2009-10) is schedule to commence Saturday night when the Bruins host the New York Rangers.
During Boston’s one-week training camp leading up to the 48-game regular season, Rask tried hard not to look too deep into the future.
“I just try to get going on the right foot because the start’s going to be important for us, as it is for everybody,” he said. “I just try to make sure that I take care of my business and I take my part as good as I can and get off to a good start.”
So much of the Bruins’ success has been achieved both through great play in their crease, and an outstanding trust between the team in front of the goaltender. That chemistry was there almost from Day One after Thomas returned from overseas in 2005, and it has grown with Rask ever since there were some hiccups during the 2010-11 Stanley Cup-winning campaign.
Without an exhibition season, Anton Khudobin, who’s slid into Rask’s old No. 2 netminder spot, hasn’t been able to forge that bond. So despite statements to the contrary, head coach Claude Julien might have to lean on Rask a little more than he would during an 82-game season with both Rask and Thomas at his disposal.
In the 1994-95 shortened season, eight goaltenders played 40 games or more. One was Martin Brodeur, who wound up hoisting the Cup that summer. Eddie Belfour played 42 games and led Chicago to the Cup semifinals.
At the outset, Julien says he doesn’t plan to put too much of a workload on Rask.
“What made us confident about Tim Thomas was that he was a good goaltender, but we also had another one in Tuukka Rask. From what I’ve seen and what he’s shown in the past, I think [Anton] Khudobin and Tuukka are a great goaltending tandem,” said the coach. “Tuukka’s got an opportunity here to take over for Tim. He certainly has to prove that he can, but I think he’s shown the ability to be a good goaltender in this league and maybe he doesn’t have the number of games that Tim was getting, but he’ll be given that opportunity as well. And if there’s times where he needs a rest, we’ve got another goaltender that I think can do the job also.”
With standings points extra precious, there won’t be much time to experiment with how Khudobin fits the Bruins’ needs. Rask, whose previous NHL career high is 45 games played, might have to prove his elite status by both playing at an All-World level and showing he has the endurance to match that career high in just 3 ½ months’ time.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.