Spotlight on the Opponent: Tuukka Rask

What: Boston at Detroit
When: Wednesday, November 27, 7:30pm (TV: FSD; NBCSN; TSN2)

Tuukka Rask

He might be the best goalie in the NHL today. Certainly, few play with more confidence and swagger than he does on a nightly basis.

He’s Tuukka Rask, and I’m proud of him—because half of my heritage is Finnish.

Rask, 26, is the man between the pipes for the Boston Bruins and he’s playing some great hockey.

He was born in Savonlinna, Finland in March 1987 and was drafted 21st overall in the 2005 Entry Draft by…the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So how did Rask end up tending net for the rival Bruins?

Well, the Maple Leafs earned their derisive nickname, the Maple Laughs, when you hear the story.

Rask was traded to Boston, without having played a game for the Leafs, for goalie Andrew Raycroft, who was a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) winner for the Bruins in 2003-04. The Leafs felt that Rask was expendable because Justin Pogge, they thought, was their goalie of the future.

Three things here: 1) Pogge ended up playing just seven games for Toronto, and they were seven brutal games; 2) Raycroft flamed out and was awful for Toronto; 3) the Bruins were going to release Raycroft anyway, so if Toronto had been more patient, they could have had him without surrendering Rask.

Well, add a fourth thing: Rask has turned into a great goalie, and in the same division as the Leafs.

Rask’s numbers tell most of the story (from hockey-reference.com):

Season GP W L T/O SV% GAA SO
2007-08 4 2 1 1 0.886 3.26 0
2008-09 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
2009-10 45 22 12 5 0.931 1.97 5
2010-11 29 11 14 2 0.918 2.67 2
2011-12 23 11 8 3 0.929 2.05 3
2012-13 36 19 10 5 0.929 2 5
2013-14 20 13 5 2 0.943 1.69 2
Career 158 79 50 18 0.929 2.09 18

This year, as you can see, is Rask’s best, so far. That dazzling .943 save percentage explains the stingy 1.69 GAA.

Rask led the Bruins to the Cup Finals last season, posting a sweet .940 save percentage and a 1.88 GAA, including three post-season shutouts—one of them in the Finals against Chicago.

Rask faltered slightly in the Finals, giving up 17 goals in six games, but six were in one game, and Game 1 went into three overtimes. Games 2 and 4 went into single overtime.

Rask backed up Tim Thomas during the Bruins’ path to claiming the  Stanley Cup in 2011.

All of this impressive work was rewarded, when the Bruins signed Rask to an eight-year, $56 million contract in July. With that deal, Rask became the highest paid player in Bruins history.

Rask is a fun goalie to watch. He conjures up memories of Patrick Roy: cocky, demonstrative and genuinely surprised when he skates off the ice as the losing goalie. His bursts of foul temper make for fun viewing as well.

No one are bigger fans of Rask’s than his teammates.

“He’s played so many games with such a heavy workload and he seems to be focused every game,” said veteran d-man Dennis Seidenberg the other day. “He’s backing us up, saving us games and winning games for us. It’s nice to have a guy like him in the back.”

Shawn Thornton added, “(Rask)’s been unbelievable for us. He’s stolen games for us. We’re all a big fan of his in here and I don’t think that’s a secret.”

Well, of course they’re fans. Rask might be the man who is the difference maker between other teams winning the Stanley Cup next spring, or the Bruins doing it.

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