Since the 2014-15 season, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has played in more games than any other goalie besides Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. He’s been the man in Boston and has consistently been their best player for over four seasons. Rask had offseason surgery to repair his groin in May, so it was concerning for Bruins fans when, in mid-November, he was pulled in favor of backup Anton Khudobin after posting three consecutive losses.
It was the culmination of a very poor start to the 2017-18 season for the 30-year-old Finnish netminder. After his first 12 starts this season, Rask put up a 3-7-2 record, a 2.83 GAA and a .897 save percentage. This awful goal Rask let in against the Colorado Avalanche in the second game of the season just about sums up his start.
Khudobin didn’t waste his chance at the starting job — winning four games in a row and posting a 1.75 GAA and a .945 save percentage. Despite Khudobin’s solid play, Rask was placed back into the starting role after four games on the bench. It’s clear that by benching Rask in the first place, head coach Bruce Cassidy was sending him a message.
Khudobin was never truly being considered to take over. Rask lost his first game back, allowing three goals in the process. However, Cassidy still put him on the ice for the Bruins next game and Rask got the W, but still allowed two goals on only 21 shots — good for a .905 save percentage. He remained in net. Cassidy had faith in his established goaltender.
December rolled around and something finally clicked for Rask. Since the start of December, he’s been responsible for an 11-game point streak (10-0-1). Through those 11 games he’s got a 1.18 GAA and a .957 save percentage to go along with two shutouts. Rask’s stellar play earned him NHL First Star of the Month for December.
After his shaky start, the Bruins netminder’s put himself in contention for the Vezina Trophy, an honor he received at the end of the 2013-14 season. Rask’s currently second in GAA and fourth in save percentage among goaltenders who’ve played a minimum of 20 games this season.
For Bruins fans, Rask’s resurgence shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since his NHL debut in the the 2007-08 season, Rask is the leader in save percentage among all active goalies with a minimum 100 games played at .923. He’s also the leader among all goalies, active or inactive, in GAA under the same criteria with an average goals against of 2.23.
Behind Rask, the Bruins have put themselves in position to make the playoffs. With a 22-10-6 record, Boston is sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division, leapfrogging the Toronto Maple Leafs. After 18 games this season, the Bruins sat sixth from last in the entire league and eight points behind Toronto. The way he’s playing right now, Rask could easily lead Boston all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Message received, Bruce Cassidy.