Tuukka Rask's Bruins legacy will very much be impacted by this playoff run

Joe Haggerty
NBC Sports Boston

It's no stretch to say that a great deal of Tuukka Rask's ultimate legacy with the Bruins is tied up in the unprecedented 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs inside the bubble.

Sure, the 33-year-old is a Vezina Trophy finalist this season for the second time in his NHL career and is essentially in a two-man race with Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck for the ultimate piece of goaltending hardware this season. The .929 save percentage and NHL-leading 2.25 goals against average speak for themselves about his dominance this year while largely splitting time with backup goalie Jaroslav Halak in a nearly equal split of playing time.

Truthfully, the regular season accolades go on and on for Rask as he continues to prove he's the best regular season goaltender in Bruins franchise history. He's the all-time winningest goalie in Bruins history with 291 wins, and has the most games played (536), the most saves (13,711) and the best save percentage (.922) in the B's nearly 100-year franchise history.

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Even his playoff stats are excellent as Rask ranks seventh all-time in NHL history with a .9268 save percentage in the postseason and is the active leader among all NHL goalies with a .9218 career save percentage in the regular season over his 13-year career.

He ranks third all-time in career save percentage behind Dominik Hasek and Johnny Bower, both Hall of Famers. Clearly, the reduced workload paired with Jaroslav Halak has been a big deal to Rask in the last couple of seasons as he's approaching his mid-thirties. The reduced workload led directly to playing at a Vezina Trophy level all season and allowed Rask to carry the Bruins with a .934 save percentage during last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Rask is even beginning to push his way into the Hockey Hall of Fame conversation as the career numbers pile up for him.

But there is an unfinished business element to his decade-long legacy with the Black and Gold after falling short in some extremely big moments for the Bruins during the postseason.

"You look at as a process and when you're a young guy, you're just looking to make a name for yourself," said Rask. "And then as the years go by you kind of learn different things about your game and about yourself, and what you need to do and what not [to do].

"In the years where I needed to play a lot of games I had to focus on keeping my mind sharp and my body rested, and years where I didn't have to play a lot of games then you have more practice time. I think over the years it's a balance of keeping your mind and body in sync. And you try to improve your game every day and every year and then before you know it ten years have gone by. You say ‘wow' and it's been a long time when it doesn't feel like it's been that long."

Rask has won a Stanley Cup as a backup to Tim Thomas in 2011, but the Finnish netminder has not been able to carry the Bruins to hockey immortality as the franchise guy. He has yet to get the B's over the top in two tries at the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019 and the Bruins enter this postseason as the favorites after winning the Presidents' Trophy during the regular season.

"If you look at the way our team is built, we're built for a long run into the playoffs," said Rask. "Unfortunately, we were heading to a direction when the league, and the whole world, came to a stop. Now we have to go back to building that chemistry with the same group as when it stopped. Obviously, winning a Stanley Cup or any trophy in Boston is a big thing.

"That's something we need to try for and that's our goal. We just have to adapt and build that groove and chemistry back up. The way I look at it is that all bets are off because everybody has been off for the last four months and we're starting from scratch."

The Bruins' core group isn't getting any younger and neither is Rask as he enters the final year of his contract with Boston next season, so this may be the last, best chance for all of them to win one more before the championship window begins to close.

If Rask once again falls short this postseason, fair or not, it will cement a legacy that he was never able to carry the Bruins over the Cup threshold as Tim Thomas did almost 10 years ago when he pitched shutouts in Game 7 of both the Eastern Conference Final and then again in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks. If he's not ready to play after the long layoff and the Bruins exit the postseason quickly, it will be even worse for all parties involved.

If Rask is able to play as he did last postseason, when he would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy had the B's won Game 7 against St. Louis, and finish it off by playing well when the Bruins need him most in a Game 7-type situation, then it will be the crowning achievement in what's already been an exceptional regular season career. It could mean entry to the Hockey Hall of Fame for Rask, and it certainly would clinch his status as the best goalie in the nearly 100-year history of the Bruins franchise.

But all of it comes down to how things go for the goaltender and the B's hockey club that takes many of its cues from exactly how he is playing between the pipes.   

So, yeah, there's quite a bit riding on how things go for Rask in his go-round for the Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Tuukka Rask's Bruins legacy will very much be impacted by this playoff run originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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