Don’t look now, but Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is good. Very good. In fact, he has somewhat quietly made his way to the upper echelons of the leaderboard in just about all of the major netminder categories.
So far in the 2019-20 season, Rask has only lost one regulation game at home. And that first home loss did not come until Feb. 25 – an impressive achievement, to say the least.
Sure, the Bruins have been playing solid defense in front of the Finnish-born goalie. But it is safe to say a large part of the reason why the team currently sits atop the National Hockey League standings is the play of Rask.
Bump In the Road
Unfortunately, Rask’s two most recent appearances, including a blowout loss Saturday night in Vancouver in which he was pulled in favor of Jaroslav Halak and Tuesday’s loss at home to the Calgary Flames, did not go well. But a crazy travel schedule and several consecutive weekends with back-to-back games left the entire team looking fatigued and not up to the task Saturday. On Tuesday, the netminder played well, but much of the rest of the team was flat in front of him.
Every goalie has off nights. For Rask, they have been few and far between so far this season. He has been more consistent than in recent years as well. And, there has been no sign of the prolonged stretches of poor play that has often plagued him in the past.
For the most part, Rask has been solid since he returned from a roughly week-long personal leave granted about halfway through the 2018-19 season. He also was able to avoid the familiar early-season woes that plagued him in the past.
Of course, Rask is most one of the most polarizing figures on a star-studded Bruins roster. For whatever reason, Bruins fans either love him or hate him, with no in-between. Although the hockey gurus who decide which goaltender deserves the ultimate prize for the position don’t take a player’s popularity into account, the fact that this particular goalie has silenced many of his harshest critics this season speaks volumes.
In 37 starts so far in the 2019-20 campaign, Rask boasts a 23-7-6 record, a 2.22 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage. If he finishes the season with similar numbers, he will have the best save percentage he has had since putting up a .930 percentage in the 2013-14 season and his lowest GAA since the 2.04 recorded in the same season. Not at all coincidentally, Rask’s first and only Vezina win to date was indeed in 2014.
Carrying the Team
In addition, it’s important to note that although the Bruins suffered through two months of decided slumps in December and January of this season, Rask stayed strong in net throughout those rough times. Scoring was sparse, and the full-team effort was not always evident. Despite that, they remained near the top of the league and division standings because Rask and back-up goaltender Halak put in stellar performances night after night. Now the team has the most points in the National Hockey League, and it has arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league to thank.
Currently, Rask ranks second in the NHL in GAA and has the third-highest save percentage. He actually slipped in recent days from first and second in those categories, respectively, as a result of the Bruins’ two straight high-scoring losses. He is also tied for third with three shutouts on the season.
What should excite Bruins fans most is the fact that the nearly 33-year-old Rask usually tends to get even better as the season progresses. Also, he seems to do his absolute best work in the playoffs. Perhaps his most impressive playoff performance came in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In that series, the Bruins swept the Penguins, who scored just two goals total in four games with Rask in net for the Bruins. The Penguins never led at any point in the series, and Pittsburgh superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both held scoreless.
Rask was lights out again in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Like they did to the Penguins a few years earlier, the Bruins swept the upstart Canes on their way to Boston’s third appearance in the Cup Final in the 2010s.
Regardless of whether Vezina voters honor Rask’s accomplishments with the coveted award at the end of the season, the Bruins organization definitely recognizes what a special player they have in the netminder, who was selected by the division-rival Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The team and colleagues from around the league have taken note of his play and longevity.
Rask was recognized by the Bruins in a special ceremony held in January for playing in his 500th game in the NHL. Last season, he was similarly honored as the winningest goaltender in the Bruins’ long and storied history.
Win or lose, Rask shows no signs of losing his title as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. He still has one year remaining on his eight-year contract, which carries an annual average value of $7 million. He’ll be just 34 when his current contract expires, meaning hockey fans could have a chance to watch him work between the pipes for many more years to come.