Boston Bruins: Why a Winning Start to the Season Is Crucial For Tuukka Rask

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Boston Bruins: Why a Winning Start to the Season Is Crucial For Tuukka Rask
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Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has started each of his two previous NHL seasons with identical three-game losing streaks.

The 2012-13 campaign will be different from those seasons in a number of ways. Naturally, though, it will be on Rask to bring about the most critical change, namely a refined overall game and, at age 25 going on 26, an affirmation of his growing maturity.

The Bruins no longer have the services of Tim Thomas, the starter who had one win for each of Rask’s three losses in October 2011 and set the tone for a hardware-laden campaign with seven straight wins to start 2010-11.

With this season being a condensed 48-game schedule, there will be far less room for error and time to recover lost ground. Compounding that with the loss of Thomas and Rask’s elevation means there will often be a shorter turnaround between his starts than before.

Rask has a history of streakiness on both sides of the spectrum. Besides his three straight regulation losses to start the season, his 2011-12 ended with a string of four straight regulation losses.

On the other hand, his log of 23 games played last year also contained a 4-0-1 streak that encompassed three straight wins and an overlapping seven-game win streak and eight-game unbeaten run.

His 2010-11 transcript featured 29 total appearances, a 0-4-1 start and later four straight victories between Feb. 17 and March 1.

Translation: Rask can make an ally out of momentum, but one of his most pressing needs is an ability to halt it and convert it when it does not work in his favor.

As it happens, a week from Saturday (per The Boston Globe), the Bruins will reportedly begin the abbreviated season by hosting the New York Rangers. That game will fall exactly 52 weeks to the date of their previous season-series opener with the Rangers, the eventual first-place team in the Eastern Conference.

Presumably, as it was then, the goaltending card at TD Garden shall be Rask and Henrik Lundqvist, who played to a 2-2 regulation tie before New York’s Marian Gaborik won it with a sudden-death power-play conversion on Jan. 21, 2012.

Dueling with Thomas’ successor as the Vezina Trophy recipient and serving as the last line of defense against Gaborik, Brad Richards and new Blueshirt Rick Nash is a taxing way for Rask to begin this winter. If he prevails, it will be a welcome, potentially momentous plus point for himself and his skating mates.

But one needs to be realistic about this Original Six heavyweight bout, Rask especially. He may give an irreproachable performance and still fall short of a two-point package like he did that afternoon almost exactly a year ago.

In that event, he must be sure not to let it dent his conviction the way it seemed to before. That overtime shortcoming marked the end of his personal seven-game winning streak and transitioned him into his six-game winless skid, which culminated in a no-decision and injury against the Islanders.

The only way Rask and the Bruins could ward off the consequences of a stretch of that type is if rookie backup Anton Khudobin pulls a 2009-10 Rask this regular season.

Besides his being a year older, the most encouraging fact for Bruins buffs is that, entering this season, Rask is not coming off a mortifying playoff loss like he was in 2010. Nor is he coming off a sophomore slide, complete with a personal losing record of 11-14-2 and a postseason on the pine, like he was in 2011.

He is not even coming off an injury-shortened season and six-plus months without any game action like he would have been if 2012-13 began at the conventional time. Rather, he is coming off what is essentially a miniature offseason after posting a 2.11 goals-against average and .924 save percentage over a 17-game stint in the Czech Republic during the lockout.

That is not a pound-for-pound substitute for the NHL, but still something to build on. Now that he is back in Boston, Rask must not delay in continuing to foster his conviction.

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