Do the Bruins Have a Number One Goalie?

Tuukka Rask collided with rookie teammate Anders Bjork in practice Wednesday and is undergoing NHL concussion protocol. His 1-3-0 start has local sports talk radio questioning whether he should still be the team’s number one goalie.

Backup Anton Khudobin, 31, with his unorthodox style has two victories this season beating the winless (at the time) Coyotes in Arizona and the Vancouver Canucks after Rask was injured. He was anointed by some as the one to guard the Boston goal for the foreseeable future.

Khudobin Is Not the Answer

Those two Khudobin wins gave Rask doubters the impetus to see what the backup can do. A 6-3 win over the Canucks, followed by a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres should tell you all you need to know. He was average and below average and not the key to the B’s success.

Khudobin is a backup goaltender, period.

Khudobin Bruins
Anton Khudobin (THW Library Archives)

He began last season as the backup and battled an injury at the start of the year.  Khudobin posted a 2-5-1 record with a .880 save percentage in his first eight starts and it seemed every shot he faced during this stretch found its way to the back of the net. In January he was placed on waivers and was sent down to Providence. He was once again a late season call up setting the stage for the proverbial goaltender controversy.

In his last six starts of the season, he had a 5-1-0 record with a vastly improved .922 save percentage. His biggest win was a huge 2-1 win over the New York Islanders late in March which helped secure the Bruins a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three years. Of course, he didn’t play in the postseason which brings us to the Bruins’ franchise goalie.

Rask the Enigma

Rask can be as solid as a rock at times, but the so-called soft goals have frustrated the coaches and put the fans on edge while setting sports talk radio on fire.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, NHL, Fantasy Hockey, Fantasy
Tuukka Rask (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins traded for Rask in 2006 sending Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a couple of seasons in Providence, he was awarded the starting job over Tim Thomas in 2009-2010. After blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, he was again backing up Thomas to start the next season. Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with Rask playing in 23 games in the regular season, none in the playoffs and was still considered to be the Boston’s future goalie while backing up Thomas. He was only 24 years old.

The 2012-13 season did not begin until January 2013. By then, there was nothing to keep Rask from being number one. With Thomas gone, Rask could shine with Khudobin as his backup playing in 14 of the 48-game schedule.

Rask Almost Won the Cup

Bruins were expected to make a deep run into the playoffs backstopped by their franchise goalie. They did, all the way to the Final.

Rask was off the hook.  His play was solid dispatching the Leafs in seven games, the New York Rangers in five, and sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins. Boston lost in the Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, the series ended 4-2. Rask was good with a .932 save percentage. It was the 6-5 overtime home loss in Game 4 and the final 1:15 of the series, when he gave up two goals and the championship that began the love-hate relationship he now has with the fans.

Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Tuukka Rask, James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk fights for position in front of Boston’s Tuukka Rask (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

He has pulled himself from the starting lineup of what was considered, crucial games down the stretch the last two seasons with questionable illnesses and before jumping right back in the lineup the next game.  Moves like that have called into question his resilience and his wanting to be that guy for the Bruins.

Rask was back at practice Tuesday with hopes to be back in the net by the weekend. He has to go through tests to prove he is okay to return. Until he does return, Khudobin will be the number one goalie with Zane McIntyre backing him up. When Rask is ready, there is no doubt who the Bruins will have in net. He is the number one goaltender, like it or not. Khudobin will always be the backup. There is no other choice.