Tuukka Rask is coming off a season that saw his stat line fall a few ice chips shy of his breakthrough campaign in 2009-10. Through 23 appearances this past year, he retained a 2.05 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, both better than colleague Tim Thomas.
As easy as it might be to forget, especially given that his last lick of extramural action preceded an injury March 3 against the New York Islanders, Rask has plenty to build upon.
How much and how swiftly he builds on that will hold inevitable sway over the destination of the Boston Bruins effective as soon as the start of next season. Thomas has removed himself from the equation, swinging the door open for the towering Finn to claim a permanent starting position on his second try.
With the privilege of rewarded patience comes the expectation that Rask will, in short order, return Boston to something more along the lines of 2011 status as opposed to 2012, 2010 or most any year prior.
Granted, he might not backstop his own championship run without fail in 2013, but there are enough reasons to believe the 25-year-old Rask can soon be in the cage for a Cup run in Boston.
While they are stylistic opposites in the crease, Rask and Thomas are practically once-removed relatives with the fire that fuels their performances (and sometimes boils them over).
When it appeared Rask had usurped an injury-laden Thomas’ crease in 2010, the elder half of Boston’s enviable tandem rebounded for an historic, Cup-winning 2010-11 campaign.
Thomas was forced to forcefully take the crease back that year. Although he has now essentially given it back, Rask should know that Anton Khudobin could be given a look at any time.
Furthermore, although he had an enjoyable view of the 2011 playoff run, Rask is the one member of Boston’s core with something still to prove after the mortifying meltdown of 2010.
As limited as Rask’s Stanley Cup transcript is, there are encouraging signs to be reaped from his so far only playoff series victory.
Despite facing an arm-wrestling bout with Ryan Miller and surrendering the first goal in five out of six games, Rask held up strongly enough to wrest away a six-game victory in the first round of the 2010 tournament. Perhaps the most impressive installment of that two-week tilt was Game 4, which saw him shake off an initial 2-0 deficit and ultimately backstop a 3-2, double-overtime triumph.
More recently, in a year that generally saw his fortunes go the way of the club, two of Rask’s better losing efforts were shootout or overtime decisions against All-Star Jimmy Howard and Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.
If Rask confronts doubters along with a more playoff-seasoned adversary in a best-of-seven, then so much the better for Boston.
Although some of the reasons for Cup-hungry Bruins buffs to stoke their confidence in Rask are applicable any year, there are a few that are specific to 2012-13.
Should the NHL choose to send its players to the 2014 Olympics, Rask will doubtlessly be craving a chance to represent Finland, especially since he has not done so since the 2006-07 World Junior Championships.
He can make an early impression to prove himself worthy of the ultimate international tournament with a solid showing in the more intensive, arguably more prestigious Stanley Cup dance.
The length of Rask’s current contract, combined with the two-year deal that expired earlier this summer, combines to match that of his three-year entry level contract that ran through his lone NHL playoff run to date.
By partial, but perhaps not complete coincidence, Rask’s two most impressive professional campaigns to date have come when he is up for free agency. That shall be the case again when July 1, 2013 approaches.
Granted, his workload is bound to be bigger than it’s been at any point since he played 57 games for Providence in 2008-09. But by now, he should have the skill and drive to capitalize on this contract year and earn himself some money next offseason.