Leading up to the start of the season, New England Hockey Journal will be taking a look ahead to 2013-14 with a series of Bruins player previews throughout September. Today, we're looking at the year ahead for the B's starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, who signed an eight-year, $56-million contract this past offseason.
HEIGHT: 6-foot-3 WEIGHT: 185 SHOOTS: Right
BORN: March 10, 1987 – Savonlinna, Finland
DRAFT: 2005 – 1st round (21st Overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs
CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2020-21 ($7 million cap hit)
2012-13 STATISTICS: 19-10-5, 2.00 GAA, .929 Sv%, 5 shutouts
LOOKING BACK ON 2013
After a dominant stint overseas with HC Plzen during the lockout, Rask returned to Boston set on proving to the entire hockey world he made the right decision signing a one-year, "show-me" contract with the Bruins. With a quick glance at his numbers above, it's clear that the Finnish backstop shined in his first season as the B's go-to goalie.
While there were certainly a few hiccups along the way, "highlighted" by the Bruins' uncharacteristic penchant for coughing up third-period leads, Rask ultimately finished the campaign ranked among the game's top netminders in every meaningful category. What mattered most, however, was his ability to rise to the occasion come playoff time.
Rask backstopped the Black and Gold to within two victories of their second championship in three years, posting Tim Thomas-like numbers with a 1.88 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in 22 postseason tilts. He was simply spectacular in the conference finals, limiting the high-flying Penguins to just two goals in a four-game sweep.
1. Rask was acquired in a June 2006 trade that sent Andrew Raycroft from Boston to Toronto.
2. Only one goaltender was drafted ahead of Rask in 2005: Carey Price (Montreal, fifth overall).
3. Rask is 2-8-2 lifetime against Montreal, his most regulation losses against one opponent.
4. On the flip side, Rask is 8-1-0 with a .949 save percentage against the team that drafted him: Toronto.
5. Rask ranks second in NHL history with a career .930 save percentage in the playoffs. Tim Thomas is first at .933.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2013-14
After years of waiting in the wings as Thomas' backup, Rask proved once and for all he truly has the stuff to lead the B's to the big stage, even though he fell agonizingly short of capturing the Stanley Cup. Now, the challenge will be proving he can do it again on the heels of a full 82-game slate.
The lanky netminder remained healthy for the entirety of the 2013 campaign, making 34 starts in the regular season and another 22 in the playoffs. Add it up and you've got a total of 56 starts for Rask, narrowly trumping the 52 he made in 2009-10 and the ensuing postseason. Sandwiched in between those two aforementioned seasons were a few injury scares, with Rask undergoing a minor knee procedure in 2011 and spending time on the sidelines with a groin injury in 2012.
If all goes according to plan, No. 40 will be tasked with his biggest workload to date. With one of Niklas Svedberg or Chad Johnson slated to be this year's backup, the B's will benefit greatly from one of the two being able to replicate Anton Khudobin's performance from a season ago. Khudobin departed for Carolina as an unrestricted free agent after going 9-4-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average for the Bruins in his lone full NHL season to date.
Should Boston's No. 2 netminder be able to hold the fort down once every 4-5 games, Rask should certainly be able to maintain a high level of play throughout the year.
PREDICTION FOR 2013-14
While it's not exactly lunacy to have some concerns about how Rask will perform as the top goalie on the depth chart during a legitimate NHL season -- not to mention the first year of an eight-year contract that makes him the highest-paid goalie ($7 million annually) in the league -- last year's superb postseason performance quashed the ultimate question mark hovering over him, and there's no reason to think he'll do anything but pick up right where he left off. Don't be surprised if the Bruins' backstop is among the Vezina Trophy finalists when all's said and done.
PREDICTION: 37-16-7, 2.02 GAA, .931 Sv%, 8 shutouts