BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask said before this season began that it was going to be a “prove it” year for both himself and the Bruins. Since being awarded the No. 1 goaltender gig prior to the season after Tim Thomas went AWOL, Rask has confidently gone about asserting himself as the franchise goaltender for a Stanley Cup-worthy team during the regular season and the playoffs.
The 26-year-old Finland native was left off the Vezina Trophy finalist list despite being finishing third in save percentage (.929) and tied for fourth in goals against average (2.00), and now he’s putting up similar numbers through an impressively resilient playoff run. Rask outplayed a playoff newcomer in James Reimer during the first round of the playoffs, and got the better of the best goaltender in the world, Henrik Lundqvist, in the second round.
He also recovered nicely from the “Butt Stumble” botched save that opened the door for the Rangers and Carl Hagelin in Game 4, and slammed the door with 27 saves in Boston’s 3-1 elimination win in Game 5. His shoulder save on a Ryan Callahan breakaway attempt in the third period when it was still just a one-goal game iced the it for the Black and Gold.
“As a goalie you expect to make one or two big saves, and [in Game 5] it happened,” said Rask, who was awarded the Army Rangers jacket following Saturday night's elimination victory. “I didn’t feel bad about myself after Game 4, but obviously there was a little screw-up there with that goal. I didn’t let that bother me.”
The big stop on Callahan -- and another one on Rick Nash in the final 20 minutes -- also opened the door for Rask’s teammates to start chirping him about falling down in his own crease. You can do that when you show the ability to rebound from a potentially costly postseason mistake, and prove it be the unfortunate aberration that it truly was.
“Winning [Game 5] was important for all the right reasons. But also, it gives Tuukka the opportunity now to laugh about that goal instead of crying, right?” said Claude Julien. “I think that was pretty important, too. That’s what I told Tuukka at the end of the game, ‘You can start laughing now.' ”
Rask can also start counting the cash pretty soon. He’s in line for a big contract extension as a restricted free agent after proving himself in the regular season, and helping lead the Bruins to their second conference final berth in the last three years. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said he doesn’t lament letting Rask go through the playoffs unsigned, and knowing what he is might actually make it an easier negotiating process.
“I’m happy for him that he’s playing well and he’s helping the team,” said Chiarelli. “It’s always easier to sign these guys after success. He’s showing some resiliency, which I like, and some durability, which I like.
“I liked [Rask's] big saves. We had some real good games where, I’d have to go back and look, but I think we had a chance in every game. The last game, he had those two saves in the third. Not part of sustained pressure. You see a bunch of saves, it’s like point-blank [Ryan] Callahan to [Rick] Nash. Those are big saves. His ability to bounce back from the game before . . . I like that. It really is about the surges. I like that we’re seeing more of the same.”
His resiliency, durability and postseason success likely mean that Rask is looking at something in the 5-6 year term range worth between $5-$6 million per season on par with contemporaries like Jimmy Howard ($5.291 million per season) and Carey Price ($6.5 million per season).
That’s a price the Bruins will be willing to cover now that their young goalie has accomplished just about everything he’s needed to do in his “show it to me” season in Boston.