By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For the first two months of the season, Tuukka Rask was not excellent. Everybody was upset.
With an .899 save percentage, a 2.91 goals-against average and a 3-8-0 record through his first 13 games, Rask ranked 29th, 21st and 32nd in those respective categories. It was quite poor.
As a result, head coach Bruce Cassidy turned to backup Anton Khudobin, who helped steady the Bruins by backstopping four straight wins.
With his cage sufficiently rattled for the first time really since he lost his starting job as a 23-year-old back in 2010, Rask has been a completely different goalie since taking the ice on Nov. 29 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and their No. 1 scoring offense.
In fact, Rask has been the best goalie in the NHL.
Among all goaltenders who have played at least five games since Nov. 29, Rask ranks first in save percentage by a healthy margin, first in GAA by an even healthier margin, and first in wins.
NHL Goaltenders Since Nov. 29 (Min. 5 games)
1. Tuukka Rask, .946
2. Frederik Andersen, .937
3. Henrik Lundqvist, .935
4. Devan Dubnyk, .935
5. Brian Elliott, .933
1. Tuukka Rask, 1.45
2. Brian Elliott, 1.99
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 1.99
4. Devan Dubnyk, 2.05
5. Cory Schneider, 2.09
1. Tuukka Rask, 8
2. Cory Schneider, 7
2. Braden Holtby, 7
2. Brian Elliott, 7
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 7
That’s pretty good.
In 5-on-5 situations, Rask has been nearly unbeatable, boasting an NHL-best .967 even strength save percentage over his last 10 games (nine starts). Vasilevskiy ranks second at .950.
It’s been a highly impressive climb up the NHL leaderboards. Rask now ranks fifth in GAA for the season and 15th in save percentage.
He hasn’t exactly gotten himself into Vezina consideration, and given how poor that start was to the season, it’s unlikely he will.
Yet for a full month, Rask has played like the goalie he’s supposed to be. The calls to trade him for a bag of pucks have largely gone quiet, and Cassidy appears to have been able to masterfully push all of the right buttons to help save the season.
The Bruins now sit comfortably in the third spot in the Atlantic Division, seven points up on Montreal despite having played two fewer games. They’re just two points behind Toronto for second in the division despite playing three fewer games than the Leafs.
With back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday night, the Bruins will inch closer to the pack in the games played department. (They’re currently tied for fewest games played in the entire NHL.) And if Rask performs as well as he has since late November, they’ll find themselves in their best position of the season in the standings.
They’re in prime position to secure a playoff berth for the second straight year, and if they’re to actually accomplish anything when they get there, they’ll need Rask to be at his best. Over the past month, he’s shown exactly what that’s looked like.