Things have certainly changed with the Boston Bruins.
In his final season with the Bs Tim Thomas decided he didnt want to speak to reporters on game days, and wouldnt have been standing with his arms folded at his dressing room stall waiting for the questions.
But its a new goaltending era in Boston, and Tuukka Rask was ready, willing and able to answer everything that came his way as the proving ground for his case as franchise goaltender begins tonight against the New York Rangers. Rask has sufficiently shaken off the six goals he allowed in Tuesdays scrimmage against the Providence Bruins, and had his game face on.
Its exciting, said Rask, who finished with a 2.05 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 22 games last season. I feel like our team had a good morning skate and were ready to go. I was trying to get my mind back and legs back this week, and I think I was able to do that.
Itll be a tricky challenge for Rask as hes the kind of big, rangy goaltender that is at his best when his body is quiet and trained on the path of the puck. The between-the-pipes gymnastics common during Tim Thomas time in goal is now a thing of the past for the Black and Gold, but it becomes a tough trick for a goal that will have gallons of adrenaline coursing through his veins.
Theres little doubt things will look like somebody hit the fast-forward button in the first few minutes of the game, but Rask is just looking to settle in and start making his case for being Bostons No. 1 goaltender.
I just hope its not going to be 100-mph with everybody getting in front of me so I cant see a thing, said Rask. Thats the toughest part for a goalie when you havent played in a long time: staying calm and letting the puck come to you rather than over-moving or over-thinking. Its going to be fast out there and thats something I have to be mentally prepared for.
Not to put too much pressure on the 26-year-old Rask, but its not unfair to say the Bruins ultimate fate for this season hinges on the Finnish goaltender. If he can utilize the strong defensive players around him and make the most of Claude Juliens system designed to keep shooters to the perimeter of the offensive zone, the Bruins will be among a short list of Stanley Cup favorites.
If Rask has issues with his glove hand or develops a habit of giving up a bad goal per game in the early going, then the Bruins could be saddled as a middle of the pack playoff team with last years first round fate likely to be repeated.
Its perhaps unfair to heap so much pressure and responsibility on one player, but Tim Thomas exit is the only major change to a team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and was the best team in hockey last season until Tim Thomas decided to skip out on the White House visit.
They could be both of those things again if Rask can stop 93 percent of the shots that hell face, and avoid groin problems or simply tiring out while shouldering a sizeable workload.
Quite simply Rask needs to live up to being the young goalie that led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage as a rookie three years ago.