What Was Once So Certain: Rask, Fernandez, and the Future of the Bruins' No. 2

Wayne Whittaker@@WayneTwittakerCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2009

For many of the fans packed into the Garden on Saturday afternoon, it came as quite a shock when PA announcer Jim Martin announced Tuukka Rask as the starting goaltender for the Boston Bruins matinee match up against the New York Rangers.

Prior to today's game, the 21-year old posted a 2-1-1 record in the big leagues with a 3.26 goals against average and a .886 save percentage. To say fans may have felt uneasy about this decision would be an understatement.

But after a remarkable performance (good for 35 saves and his first NHL shutout) Rask has proven himself worthy of a permanent slot on the Bruins' roster.

How did this all come about? Just last month the tandem of Thomas and Fernandez were tearing up the NHL stat sheets, leading the Bruins to the top of league. It all comes down to two words, "general soreness."

The curious bout of soreness has kept Fernandez from practicing with the B's, forcing Tuukka Rask to be called up from Providence on an "emergency" basis.

Rask watched from the bench for the last few games, as starter Tim Thomas played eight consecutive games. But when coach Claude Julien gave Thomas the day off, Rask was more than eager to make the most of this opportunity.

"You don't want to fail because if you fail you don't know when you're going to get another chance." The Finn goaltender explained in a post-game interview.

In the American Hockey League, Rask sits in 13th place for top goaltenders (2.46 GAA, .918 save %) after leading the Providence Bruins to the best record in the AHL one year ago.

Shall We Initiate The Rumors?

It seems as though since October there have been Thomas/Fernandez trade rumors. Both goaltenders are in the last year of their contracts, and will enter (unrestricted) free agency at the end of the season.

Thomas has surpassed all reasonable expectation for the season. In 31 starts the University of Vermont alumni has posted a .932 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against average.

Fernandez has heated up after a slow start, with .928 save percentage and 2.07 GAA in his 19 starts.

However the injury bug has struck Fernandez again. This coming after he missed most of the 2007-2008 season with a knee injury. There is speculation that the pesky knee is the issue once again.

Throughout the season it has become apparent that Boston loves Thomas. Contract negotiations have already started between the net-minder and the team, and if there is a way to keep Thomas in Boston, the powers-that-be will find it.

That being said, there has been much debate as to what to do with Fernandez. Do the Bruins keep him through the season and let him walk? Or should general manager Peter Chiarelli opt to trade the 34 year old before the March 4 deadline?

And while Rask has been solid in Providence (and now in Boston), consistency is the key. Can Tuukka Rask be successful whenever called upon? How does the rookie handle pressure? These questions and others must be on the back of The Management's mind.

It's a tricky situation Boston finds itself in. And there's no easy answer. Though I will say this: it seems silly to have an NHL-caliber goaltender playing in Providence, while a five million dollar backup sits out with a slew of nagging injuries.

Next Stop: Montreal

The Bruins will face the Habs in a Super Bowl Sunday matinee. And despite Rask's remarkable performance on Saturday, don't expect him to get the start.

When it comes to Bruins/Canadiens hockey, better leave it to the seasoned veteran. The Boston Globe has confirmed Thomas as tomorrow's starter.

There's no better hockey city than Montreal. And there's no better rival than the Montreal Canadiens. Tomorrow's game promises to be the highlight of Super Sunday.


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