Now that the Tim Thomas saga has finally concluded with Boston dealing his $5 million cap-hit, Tuukka Rask's ownership of the Bruins' crease is fully established. In eight starts this season, the 25-year-old goalie has proven that he is worthy of the job.
Without his two-time Vezina-winning former partner around to share the load, Rask has faced tremendous pressure to perform early this season. Well-prepared for the task, Rask has handled his expanded role with tremendous poise.
He arrived in camp in mid-season form thanks to a lockout stint with HC Plzen in the Czech Extraliga. He made 17 starts for the club from early October to late November, which gave him a taste of life as an everyday starter.
He thrived in the Czech Republic, helping Plzen surge to the top of the league standings. Posting a 2.11 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, Rask proved that he can excel consistently as a team's primary puck-stopper.
Back in Boston, he has been brilliant, backstopping the Bruins to a 6-1-1 record in his eight starts. His 1.97 goals-against average ranks fifth among goalies with more than five starts, and his .922 save percentage has been equally impressive.
His league-leading six wins are all the more impressive considering the Bruins have struggled offensively, ranking 15th in goals-per-game. Boston's abysmal power play has faced tons of criticism early this season, but the penalty kill has been spectacular thanks primarily to Rask.
His steady performance has helped the team maintain the league's second highest penalty kill percentage, keeping opponents at bay 92.3 percent of the time.
Rask has also come up huge in the clutch. He is two-for-two in shootouts, coming up with enormous saves to claim the two points on both occasions. He has also conceded only three third-period goals this season, keeping his net empty in the final third seven times in eight opportunities.
All three of the those third period goals came in Boston's only regulation loss, a 7-4 nightmare against the Buffalo Sabres. Led by a Thomas Vanek hat-trick, the Sabres thoroughly outworked the Bruins throughout the game, consistently earning breakaways and odd-man rushes. Failed by his teammates, Rask was hardly to blame for the let-down, though, he did play his worst game of the season.
Following the wake-up call, Rask bounced back in the best way possible in Toronto. With his teammates held to just one-goal, off the stick of Chris Bourque, Rask needed to be perfect, and he was just that.
He made 21 saves, including some particularly challenging ones from former-Bruin Phil Kessel, to shutout the Maple Leafs on the road.
Days later, he produced another dazzling effort to help the Bruins overcome a flat-start in a comeback victory over the rival Canadiens in Montreal. With first place in the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference on the line in hockey's most hostile environment, Rask was at his sparkling best turning away 21 shots to be named the game's first star.
The young goaltender has been Boston's most reliable player in the young season, providing Vezina-caliber play on a nightly basis. He has been arguably the league's most consistently excellent netminder so far this season and looks primed to star in Boston's crease for years to come.
His no-nonsense style and unique talent are quickly making Boston fans get over the loss of Tim Thomas, and he is ready to lead the Bruins on another Stanley Cup Run.