Rangers vs. Bruins: Tuukka Rask Will Make Fans Quickly Forget About Tim Thomas

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IJanuary 20, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 19: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the New York Rangers in the second period during the season opener game on January 19, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Boston Bruins showed that they are already in midseason form with an impressive 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers in Saturday night's season opener at TD Garden.

One of Boston's brightest stars was starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in a brilliant performance.

"I thought he was solid," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien after the game. "And I thought our guys did a better job, which allowed Tuukka [Rask] to see the puck better and allowed him to make some key saves."

If the 25-year-old goaltender plays as well as he did Saturday night on a consistent basis, he will help fans quickly forget about former Bruins netminder Tim Thomas, who remains in Colorado with his family enjoying a one-year retirement.

As expected, the transition from Thomas to Rask was a smooth one. Rask looked very comfortable in net on Saturday night and made a couple of huge saves in the final two periods against a talented group of Rangers forwards.

His rebound control was excellent, and he appeared to be playing at full strength following a groin injury suffered in March of last year.

Rask was also an important part of the Boston penalty kill, which stopped the Rangers from scoring on all five of their power-play opportunities, including a 5-on-3 advantage in the third period with the Bruins hanging on to a 2-1 lead and top defenseman Zdeno Chara in the box.

The Bruins couldn't beat the Rangers at TD Garden last season, and had a four-game home losing streak vs. New York entering Saturday night's showdown. Not only did Rask help the Bruins snap the Rangers' winning streak in Boston, he has also given the team plenty of confidence moving forward.

The Bruins are comfortable with Rask in net and know that they have a good chance to win every game he plays in.

Since Rask has been a key part of this team since the beginning of the 2009-10 season, the communication between him and the defensemen is very good. It also helps that he has played in the same system his entire NHL career.

Rask consistently performs at a high level against the top teams in the league, and he had a record of 4-1-2 with a 1.71 GAA against playoff teams last season.

Rask is fully capable of playing like a Vezina Trophy finalist this season. In 103 career NHL games, he has a 48-35-11 record with a 2.19 GAA and a .926 save percentage. In fact, Rask now has the best save percentage in team history following his latest victory.

In the only other season in which he was the full-time starting goaltender (2009-10), Rask was 22-12-5 with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage.

He should be able to post similar GAA and save percentage numbers this year since he's improved individually over the last two seasons and the team around him has also gotten better in that time.

After patiently waiting to get another opportunity to become the team's starting goaltender, Rask proved on Saturday night that he's fully ready for the role. Since he's such a fierce competitor, don't expect him to ever lose the starting job again.

He plays a different style in goal than Thomas does, but the results are the same. Rask rarely has a bad performance, and when the Bruins offense is struggling, Rask keeps the team in the game when the pressure is on.

Since his current contract expires at the end of the season, Rask is also playing for the first major long-term deal of his career, so he has all the incentive needed to perform at a high level in this lockout-shortened season.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Rask's future as the No. 1 goalie in Boston. It's going to take time for him to build a resume as impressive as Thomas', but he has all the talent needed to be an elite goaltender for another decade.

As long as Rask stays healthy (which he was able to do during the lockout playing overseas), the Bruins will be Stanley Cup contenders this season and for many years to come.

Thomas had a great career in Boston (including two Vezina trophies, a Conn Smythe trophy and a Stanley Cup title), but the team has moved on. It's time for the fans to do the same and support Rask as he starts the next chapter of his Bruins career.


Quotes obtained first hand or from Bruins media website.

Nicholas Goss is a Boston Bruins columnist at Bleacher Report. He was also B/R's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston and has covered the Bruins since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter.