Rask in a different situation as the starter

Rask in a different situation as the starter
May 30, 2013, 3:00 pm
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(AP Images)

WILMINGTON -- Tuukka Rask is not Tim Thomas.

The differences lie far beyond the crease. But entering this year's Eastern Conference Finals, there's really only one difference between the two that sticks out to those who watch from afar.

Thomas has a Stanley Cup.

Technically, Rask does too. He was Thomas' backup in 2011. But it was Thomas who physically made the saves to help Boston win a championship.

Now, Thomas is long gone. Rask has the keys. He's the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender. And with an entire week off before their Eastern Conference Finals series begins with the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins, Rask has had a whole lot of time to think.

Following Thursday's practice, he acknowledged the difference in winning a Stanley Cup as a starter and winning it as a backup. Because he's only done the latter.

"You get that feeling of winning, and you want it back," said Rask. "That's the thing for all of us. We know how it feels to win. And we want that feeling back. You keep that in the back of your head, work hard and stay focused. That's pretty much all we can do.

"It's just a feeling when you win as a group. It didn't matter if you didn't play or not. It was just, you hoisted the Cup, and you were with the guys. It's just that great feeling of accomplishing something as a team.

"It's different, obviously," added Rask. "You're playing and you're not. It's just that you had something to do with it on the ice, rather than off the ice, if you're playing."

That's the difference that Rask will get judged on. But dig a little deeper and you'll find another difference. And given the stranger-than-normal personalities that most goaltenders display -- at any level of hockey -- Rask's personality is what makes him unique.

"Maybe unique in a way that he's normal, for a goaltender," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after Thursday's practice. "He's one of those guys that goes along with the rest of the team. A lot of goaltenders get into their bubble, where you can't talk to them before a game, or this or that. He's just, he goes along with the flow and just focuses on his game.

"I know it sounds like I'm being sarcastic or funny here, but he's as normal as I've seen in a goaltender."

"Normal" doesn't mean that Rask lacks passion. He's as intense as they come. And the Bruins have also witnessed that side of him.

"I saw him throw a crate with pucks in it, in Providence," said Julien. "I saw him take a, I guess, a little bit of a dive in front of our bench there after a game when he was mad. But that's temper more than it is being strange.

"He does have a temper, there's no doubt about it," added Julien. "Temper, being hard on himself. Other players and stuff aren't going to get in his head, but he's very hard on himself, very demanding."

Rask wants to win a Stanley Cup as a starter. He's getting that opportunity right now. And he'll have to earn it as his next task is to try and shut down the most powerful offense in the NHL.

"They're a great team, they've got a great offense," said Rask. "But as I've said before, it doesn't matter who it is. I'm still trying to keep the puck out of the net, and trying to be good at it. That's all I can worry about. It doesn't matter who's on the other side."

And it doesn't matter what his contract status is, either.

Rask will be a restricted free agent this summer. With the fourth-best goals-against average (2.00) and third-best save percentage (.929) in the NHL during the regular season, the 26-year-old Rask has certainly earned himself a new deal, and a good one at that.

"I'm sure once it's all said and done, everybody's going to be happy," said Rask about his contract situation. "I'm not trying to prove myself and play great so that I can get more money. We'll play the season and then we'll talk about the contract stuff, and that's where everybody's going to be happy."

Rask wants a new contract. But he also wants to be the guy who leads the Bruins to a championship. He doesn't want to be the guy on the bench, like he was in 2011.

He's had a lot of time this week to think about all of these things. But as Julien pointed out, he's normal.

"Just watch TV, relax," said Rask when asked about what he did during the week off. "Just every day stuff."

It's not every day that you get a chance to lead your team to a Stanley Cup. And wining a Stanley Cup as a starting goaltender is the one difference that Rask is trying to make sure him and Thomas will soon no longer have between the two.