BOSTON (CBS) – It had to be a bittersweet night for the Bruins representatives that made their way to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards on Tuesday.
Center Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy, the NHL Foundation Player Award and got his face on the cover of a video game (which I guess is the modern-day equivalent of the Wheaties box). Goaltender Tuukka Rask won the Vezina Trophy. Defenseman Zdeno Chara earned a spot on the NHL First Team despite not winning the Norris Trophy. Defenseman Torey Krug was named to the All-Rookie Team.
So the Bruins’ foundation players, who were part of a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season in the regular season, left Las Vegas with plenty of hardware. Of course, the bounty they wanted more than anything was in the hands of Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, and I’m not talking about the Mark Messier Leadership Award. As always, the Stanley Cup was in the house along with all the individual awards, nominees and B-list celebrities. For the third straight year since they ended the franchise’s 39-year drought, the Bruins didn’t win the Cup. Having experienced that triumph three years ago, the Bruins players all know that these other trinkets that get voted on by writers and GMs are just consolation prizes.
It has to irk Rask more than anyone that he’s now missing the most important trophy in the entire sport from his resume. Chara and Bergeron obviously were major contributors to the Bruins’ 2011 run. Rask’s contribution to the Cup championship was the equivalent of one of those cadavers in the autopsy room on the CSI shows. Tim Thomas did all the work; Rask got a ring.
It’s somewhat unfair to judge the career of those in the glamour positions – goaltender, pitcher, quarterback – on championships. But that’s one of the burdens of the role. Rask is probably under the heat lamp a little more because Thomas and the Bruins won so recently. Prior to 2011, the bar had been set pretty low for a couple decades. Strong regular seasons that didn’t result in postseason success were the norm and moral victories were commended. That has changed since Game 7 in Vancouver. Thomas not only won, he won with so much of the same cast that Rask plays behind now. The majority of current Bruins players have proven their championship caliber. Rask is in the minority among his teammates.
With his first win of the award that’s given to the best goaltender, Rask now has one more Vezina than Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. However, Quick has two Stanley Cup wins as his team’s No. 1 netminder. Rask wasn’t able to do anything to prevent Quick’s win this year because Rask was outplayed by Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. Rask knows all too well that Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who’s Vezina-less, also bests him in number of Cup triumphs. Rask played great against Chicago, but just not great enough to take the Bruins to the next level against a high-powered Blackhawks squad.
In his early days in the NHL, Rask mentored under Thomas. So he need only look at Thomas’ Bruins career to see the path he has to take. Like Rask, Thomas won his first Vezina (2009) before he proved he could be a champion. Thomas also earned his first mega-deal, in terms of millions of dollars, prior to winning the Cup. Rask now has the Vezina and the near-lifetime deal that he signed last summer after proving himself capable of taking a team to the Cup Final on a one-year deal in 2013.
The best way for Rask to end the debate about whether he’s a championship goaltender, whether he’s better than Thomas and whether he’s better than Quick and every other current No. 1 in the NHL is to go out and win that elusive championship. So far his success hasn’t slowed him down, and the Bruins have to hope that being around Quick and the Cup this week in Sin City sent the message to Rask that he needs to be even better when the stakes are their highest in the years to come.
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