BOSTON (CBS) – Life’s been pretty good to Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. He was picked in the first round of the NHL draft and got traded out of the Toronto organization. He made his way up to the NHL, Tim Thomas vacated the position without a fight and the Bruins made a run to the 2013 Stanley Cup finals. And then he received an eight-year contract extension worth $56 million through 2020-21.
Sometimes it seems like Rask could conquer the world if he tried. Of course, he might have a tough time at the Battle of Quebec. The Montreal Canadiens have been his worst nightmare.
Although Rask has similarly shaky regular-season numbers against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the 27-year-old’s 3-10-3 record, .908 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average against Montreal look and feel a lot worse because the Canadiens are always divisional rivals and … well, it’s the freaking Canadiens.
Rask’s task is to turn the win-loss record around to make sure the Bruins prevail in the upcoming Eastern Conference Second Round series, which is scheduled to begin Thursday night at TD Garden.
“Yeah, I guess so. I think it’s just been, I’ve had some tough games against them. But I’ve had some good games against them too,” Rask said after practice Wednesday. “There just haven’t been the wins. I just try to do my job. We lose games 2-1, 3-2, it happens. And maybe we haven’t been at our best against them in the past, but I think this year we got better and better.”
To Rask’s credit, he improved greatly against Montreal this season despite being unable to prevent a 1-2-1 record. He had a 1.94 GAA and .932 save percentage against the Canadiens. There’s no reason to believe that even if Rask’s regular-season numbers diminished even a smidge that the Bruins wouldn’t be able to provide him just enough offensive support to win four games over the next two weeks.
Rask’s a proven winner. He made his mark last summer during the run to the Stanley Cup finals. Even though the Bruins came up short in six games against the Chicago Blackhawks, he was certainly their Conn Smythe candidate with a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage in 22 postseason games. That run helped him dominate this season and earn a spot as one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy.
“Well, I think it helped in the start,” said Rask, who had a .930 save percentage and 2.04 GAA this season. “I had a good start this year maybe just because I felt good about my game. But then for a goalie it’s always, you try to keep that good feeling and it’s a long season so you get the ups and downs. But you always try to be at your best in the springtime. And last year, it happened to me and I just tried to recapture it this year.”
He recaptured that feeling and then reinvigorated it when normally the season would be going through its “dog days.” Rask carried Finland to a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He had a 1.73 GAA and .938 save percentage in four games, including a bronze medal game win against the United States.
Rask said that the Olympics “refreshed” him even though he didn’t get any rest. During the stretch run of the season back in North America, he was able to rotate a lot with backup Chad Johnson and recharge for the playoffs. He made short work of the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, as he allowed just six goals in five games and had a .961 save percentage.
Bruins forward Jarome Iginla knows about Finnish goaltenders on a big stage. He played with Miikka Kiprusoff on the Calgary Flames when they went to Game 7 of the Cup finals in 2004.
“I’ve been fortunate to play with some great goalies, no question. And Finnish goalies at that. You know Kipper for a lot of years, getting to play with him, getting to see him, how competitive he is. Tooks is extremely competitive,” Iginla said. “They’re very focused. And nothing seems to rattle them. They like the big games, the competition. And that’s fun when you look back and you know your goalie, he’s right in there confidence, having fun and competing along with the whole group. And a lot of the confidence comes from the net and Tooks has been awesome.”
The Bruins won’t have to worry about Rask providing them with anything else other than saves and stability. He hasn’t been rattled by much the past several years and the future doesn’t seem suited to daunt him. Regardless of the opponent (even the “hated Habs”) or venue, Rask is ready.
“It doesn’t matter if we play outside or inside, wherever,” he said. “It’s the same game.”
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