BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask has never played more than 45 regular-season games in a single year for the Boston Bruins, and hes always had to share the goaltending picture with the more established, oft-times brilliant Tim Thomas.
But now Thomas has walked away from the Bruins and the NHL, and the 25-year-old Rask suddenly finds himself as the guy between the pipes in Boston. Hes already proven how good he can be while leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage during his rookie season, and Rask actually finished with better numbers than Thomas when last season (2.05 goals against average and a .929 save percentage) was finally in the books.
But now Rask gets the keys to the car after playing two years in the AHL with the Providence Bruins and sharing things with Thomas for three more seasons.
All my life this has pretty much been the goal. I played some games my first year consistently, but the year after was a step back in terms of playing time, said Rask, who was in Boston to visit the children getting treatment at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute prior to speaking with the media. Ive been waiting for a few years and its going to be interesting to see how I handle it.
Its going to be a challenge, but Im always up for a challenge. Im going to make the most of it and have some fun.
The 6-foot-2, 171-pound Rask is going to have to prove he can handle a 60-plus game workload and maintain his performance deep into the playoffs, but the only way to prove any of those things is by going out and actually doing them. There will be plenty of pressure on Rask working on a one-year deal worth 3.5 million for the Bruins, but the former first round pick has his own expectations.
Rask wants to prove hes the one and only starting goaltender for the Bruins franchise for the long haul, he wants to prove hes one of the best young goalies in the NHL and he wants to show that the Bs wont skip a beat as he replaces Thomas.
Those are lofty aims for Rask, but all the pieces are in place for him to excel surrounded by a defensively responsible group of teammates and a coaching staff that preaches good two-way hockey.
If Rask does all of that then his future in Boston will take care of itself.
Im sure Im going to get every chance possible to play, but if I cant get the job done then there will be more guys coming in, said Rask. We figured that the one-year deal is best for both parties, and then if I have a good year Ill get signed to a longer deal. If I suck then kick me out, you know?
It wasnt tough. We just needed to sit and talk about a few things. The decision to go one-year was a 5050 decision.
Rask was, of course, joking about sucking next year for the Bruins, but fellow twenty-something goalie Anton Khudobin will be around to push the Finnish netminder every step of the way. Most are expecting some difficult moments for the Bruins next year with Thomas out of the picture.
But the sight of a confident, healthy exuberant Rask with training camp six weeks away gives hope hes ready for the responsibility about to be dropped onto his slight shoulders.