Rask sets bar with medal-winning performance

Rask sets bar with medal-winning performance
February 23, 2014, 1:30 am
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(AP Photo)

WILMINGTON – The notion of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask struggling seems like a fairly distant concept these days, doesn’t it?

Rask is due back in Boston in the next couple of days after putting the finishing touches on an excellent Olympic performance that helped his native Finland collect a Bronze medal, and helped keep Team USA off the medal stand when Rask threw a 5-0 shutout at the Americans on Saturday in Sochi, Russia. The shutout ended Rask’s first Olympic experience with a 3-1 record along with a .938 save percentage and 1.73 goals against average, and back-to-back stellar performances in allowing just a single goal in defeating both Russia and the United States.

The problem, as some of Rask’s Bruins teammates see it, is that he’ll now have some big expectations to live up to in Boston’s final 25 games of the regular season. Because he was clearly the hot goaltender in the Olympic tourney in the last couple of games he played, and also sets himself up to be “the guy” for the next few Olympic tournaments for Finland.

“You know Tuukka is going to bring that. He’s one of the top goalies in the world, and he’s showing that right now,” said Brad Marchand. “But he’s kind of shot himself in the foot because we’re going to be expecting that out of him every single night now. Hopefully he can bring it.”

Clearly Rask will get some rest in the ensuing weeks with 17 games coming up in 31 days during the month of March, and six back-to-back games that month that have backup goaltender Chad Johnson written all over them. But Rask was also 5-5-1 with a .915 save percentage in his last 11 games headed into the Olympic break, and had appeared to be fighting with his confidence at times in those final few games.

That’s in the rear view mirror now after flying high for Finland, and revealing the playoff version of Rask that Bruins fans remember from last spring. It looks like he’s now ready for an encore performance with the Olympics behind him.

“Being through stressful intense situations and when it goes well, those are moments that, you get into another one and you’re able to draw on,” said Jarome Iginla. “So it’s great to see [Rask] playing well, he’s a great goalie. I don’t think anybody is expecting anything differently. They’ve seen him for a long time.”

The only thing that could have put a damper on Rask’s Olympic experience was the flu big that knocked him out of the semi-final loss to rival Sweden, and didn’t allow him to even get that chance to qualify for a gold medal game. But the missed game became a shutout of Team USA for a bronze medal, and a chance to stand on the Olympic podium as one of the three best teams in a tournament that had considered Finland an afterthought headed into things.

It was the power of Finland’s commitment to their positional, hustling defense and the airtight nature of their goaltending – with Rask as the biggest part of that – that ended up allowing them to succeed in the end. Now it’s Rask’s turn with Boston again along with that tried and true formula from the Bruins as well.