WILMINGTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask is the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender with the Bruins, and has been since the team and the entire NHL returned from the 2012-13 lockout.
But Rask is heading to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics without knowing if he’s even going to play.
“I don’t know. We have three No. 1 goalies. We each get a game or something,” Rask said after the Bruins’ final pre-Olympic practice at Ristuccia Arena.
The Bruins will host the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and then join the rest of the NHL in a two-week break. That is, other than the scores of players headed to Russia to represent their countries. Rask will be joined on the Finland squad by San Jose Sharks star netminder Antti Niemi and Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Teams play three games in their group before the playoffs start.
In terms of goals-against average, Rask is the only one of the three in the NHL’s top 10 (he’s seventh). With a .928 save percentage that ranks fourth in the NHL, Rask is also the only one in the top 10 in that category. However, even Rask has had his struggles and was pulled from three games in January.
A decision on which goaltender the Finns are going to ride in net might come down to which one can adjust to the bigger Olympic rink quickest after months of playing the NHL.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. You know last year I played in Czech for a little bit [during the lockout],” Rask said. “A practice or two? I mean you get used to angles and you know it’s just more about patience, I think, to stay on your feet and prepare for those cross-ice passes a little more than on small ice. But I wouldn’t say it’s a big difference.”
It was a smooth transition from the bigger rink to the NHL last winter for Rask, who famously was among the elite goaltenders in terms of save percentage and GAA during the lockout-shortened season. He then took the Bruins on a four-round run that came up two wins shy of the Stanley Cup championship.
Although Rask has one Cup ring from his time as Tim Thomas’ backup in 2011, that’s the one area Niemi has a leg up on Rask. The Sharks goaltender led the Chicago Blackhawks to the ultimate NHL goal in 2010 before bolting for San Jose.
Rask’s international experience playing in the World Junior Championships taught him what life’s like when it gets down to single-elimination play. There are few similarities between an Olympic tournament and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I guess on some level, yeah [the playoffs are similar]. But I mean in a tournament like that, it’s always when you go past the round robin, it’s always a game-seven type of thing,” Rask said. “It’s do or die. So it’s fun. But it’s really competitive. And I guess the playoffs here help prepare for that.”
Rask says he feels good heading into the Olympics. He should, considering Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted that he played Rask a little less in the past couple of weeks to keep the goaltender fresh for the last third of the Bruins’ season and so Rask could perform at his best on the world stage.
Rask’s appreciative that his coach looked out of his health, especially considering Finland and Canada are due to square off a week from Sunday. Julien is an assistant coach for Canada.
“It’s nice of him, yeah, because they’re in our group, and he still wants to give us a chance, which is really nice,” Rask said. “But I mean, it’s good. I don’t think it’s good for anybody to go out there and be totally exhausted and then just suck.”
Even at this late date, it’s difficult to discern which goaltender is going to get hot enough to earn the ice time for Finland. But based on Rask’s recent experiences under pressure, one thing you bet on is he won’t suck.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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