Today's piece on Tuukka Rask is the fourth in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring's Stanley Cup playoff run.
Tuukka Rask is still to this point the most polarizing player on the entire Boston Bruins roster.
He's still a No. 1 goaltender based on his performances during the regular season and the long stretches when he can dominate between the pipes. The 15 wins and .934 save percentage during this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs were Rask at his best with masterful performances in each of the first three rounds vs. Toronto, Columbus and Carolina that catapulted the Black and Gold to the Stanley Cup Final in the first place.
But the .912 save percentage against the Blues was pretty ordinary in the Cup Final, and Rask's performance in Game 7 was just as average as most of the rest of his Bruins teammates in a heartbreaking result. The 32-year-old Rask still has yet to lead this Bruins team to the Stanley Cup, and there will be questions surrounding him until he can get over that hump.
Still, the Bruins figured something out this season and it's part of the reason Rask and the B's made it all the way to the Cup Final.
Actually, they figured it out a couple of seasons ago, but weren't fully able to address it until this past season when they signed Jaroslav Halak as their backup goaltender.
Halak played in a whopping 40 games, posted a .922 save percentage and actually outplayed Rask for big stretches of the season before the Bruins No. 1 guy settled into a groove in the second half of the regular season. The rest provided Rask in starting just 45 games is the key for him to be physically and mentally ready for the rigors of the postseason, and this past spring was a shining example of that.
"The way that Jaro played for us this year really helped Tuukka get some rest. We've seen when Tuukka's workload gets too high he really starts to break down," said Bruins President Cam Neely in an interview with NBC Sports Boston. "I think the fact Jaro had such a great year and we were able to rely on him, and even [Anton Khudobin] had a great year the year before, that really allows us to maybe reduce Tuukka's starts a little bit. We could keep him a little fresher this year and I think it made a really big difference in the playoffs."
Things should actually be set up for pretty close to the status quo next season as well. Rask is signed for two more seasons at a $7 million cap hit that's looking more reasonable by the month, and Halak will be returning next season for backup duty.
So the Bruins should be ready to enact this past season's division of labor between Rask and Halak, and then hope that their Finnish franchise goaltender can once again catch fire during the postseason as he did a few months ago.
The big question is whether Rask will ever be able to push the Bruins over the top and actually win the Cup after two "close but no cigar" experiences in the Cup Final that include the heart-wrenching end to the St. Louis series.
This past spring really took a stick of dynamite to the notion that Rask isn't a big game goaltender, but the truth is still that he was pretty ordinary in the biggest game of his career when it all came down to 60 minutes vs. the Blues in Game 7 two months ago.
Rask still has at least a couple of seasons to help right that wrong after coming oh-so-close to the perfect Stanley Cup playoff body of work.
Rask in his own words: "It's over. Great season. Great run. But it's over. It was a great run, but we fell one win short. You'll always think about what happened, but there's nothing you can do about it now. You just need to be proud of how you battled and how everybody worked together. It's sports. It's not fair. One team has to win and one team has to lose."
The biggest question he faces: Rask needs to win the Cup for the Bruins at this point in his career, plain and simple. After falling short with the Bruins in 2013 and 2019 in the Stanley Cup Final while Tim Thomas threw a shutout to clinch the Cup in 2011, it's pretty clear what Rask needs to do if he gets to that point ever again.
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