By: Scott LaCascia
We all knew the deal last summer. After tearing through the regular season, the Bruins stumbled late in the year and lost a first round series to the Washington Capitals that they never should have lost. After the Game 7 loss, goalie Tim Thomas posted on his Facebook page that he was sitting out the 2012-2013 season. "At the age of 38, I believe it is time to put my time and energies into those areas and relationships that I have neglected," he said. "That is why at this time I feel the most important thing I can do in my life is to reconnect with the three F's. Friends, Family and Faith. This is what I plan on doing over the course of the next year." And with Thomas' self-exile from professional hockey, it set the stage for young Tuukka Rask to take the reigns of the Boston Bruins.
Rask has been rock solid for the Bruins, going 19-10-5 in 36 games during the strike-shortened season, with a .929 SV% (third in the NHL), 2.00 GAA (fifth) and 5 shutouts (first). The thing that set Thomas and Rask apart was the postseason. Thomas has one of the greatest postseasons ever on his resume. In 2011, he led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Championship in nearly four decades, winning three game sevens in route to the Cup (Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver). During his incredible run, Thomas set the record for most saves in a single postseason with 798 and the most saves in a Stanley Cup series with 238. He also broke a 66-year old record held previously by Frank McCool (Toronto, 1945) of fewest goals allowed in a seven-game Stanley Cup Finals, allowing only eight goals total (for an all-time record .967 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Finals). In addition, Thomas also became the first goaltender ever to post a shutout in a Game 7 on the road.
Rask's previous postseason experience was just as memorable but not nearly as successful as Thomas' run. In the second round of the NHL playoffs in 2010, the Bruins led the Philadelphia Flyers three games to none, and lost four straight and the series, dropping games five and seven in Boston. Until Rask wins a Cup, that collapse will continue to hang over his head. Although Marco Sturm was lost in the first game of that series and David Krejci was injured in the third game, the Bruins handed Rask a 3-0 lead in the seventh game. He couldn't hold the lead, and Philadelphia went on to face Montreal in the Conference Final (they eventually lost to Chicago in the Cup Final). The sting from that series was only temporary for many of the Bruins, as they won the Cup thirteen months later. The pain and disappointment no doubt stayed with Rask, and he has done his best to erase the collapse of 2010.
Replacing Tim Thomas as the starting goaltender was not an enviable position for Rask.
The Bruins survived a thriller of a series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one. After taking a 3-1 series lead, the Bruins lost Game 5 in Boston and Game 6 in Toronto. All of the pressure fell on Rask and Bruins in Game 7, and they found themselves trailing 4-1 midway through the third period. My colleague Chris O was in the process of writing a piece in which he suggested that it was time for Claude Julien to move on (it was leaked that he was out as Head Coach if they had lost), but a large portion of the blame would have fell on Tuukka Rask. Instead of going quietly, the Bruins rallied. They still trailed 4-3 when Milan Lucic scored the Bruins' third goal with 1:22 to play, then tied it 31 seconds later when Patrice Bergeron fired one past James Reimer with Rask on the bench for the extra attacker. The Bruins won the game in OT. Currently, the Bruins lead the New York Rangers 3-0 in the East Semifinal and seem destined to play Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Final. Though Rask has been shaky at times, his postseason numbers indicate otherwise. After ten games in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, Tim Thomas was 7-3, with a 2.12 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. After ten games in the 2013 playoffs, Rask is 7-3, with a 2.19 GAA and .930 save percentage. Pretty damn close. If the Bruins are going to defeat Pittsburgh (Ottawa isn't beating the Pens, don't kid yourself) and advance to their second Stanley Cup Final in three seasons, it will be Rask that gets them there. A Stanley Cup permanently removes him from Thomas' shadow and washes away the collapse against the Flyers three years ago. It's Tuukka's time, and the time is now.
Tuukka Rask and Ray Liotta: separated at birth. Am I the only one who thinks so?