With Tim Thomas sidelined by a minor upper-body injury, Tuukka Rask has stepped between the pipes and proven he can be more than just an effective backup, winning three straight games and stopping 86 of 92 shots.
The 22-year-old rookie couldn’t have picked a better time to emerge as a big-time goaltender.
A week ago, the Bruins were an enigma, the epitome of a Jekyll-and-Hyde club, hot one game and frigid the next. There was no consistency to their performance, and head coach Claude Julien appeared ready to strangle someone.
Fast-forward to today. Marc Savard and Milan Lucic have returned to the lineup. The Bruins are pulling out games, instead of finding ways to give them away. The breaks are going in their favor. And the team is re-establishing its identity as a hardworking, gritty, balanced, tough-to-beat playoff contender.
Rask deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround. He might be young, but he doesn’t play like a kid, and his confidence is growing.
It all started in Atlanta. Following the Bruins’ embarrassing home loss to the Islanders, no one was sure which B’s team was going to hit the ice against the surprising Thrashers. Would it be the crisp-passing, playmaking, mistake-free club, or the turnover-heavy, defensively sloppy, unfocused one? Rather than wallowing in self-pity, digging themselves a deeper hole and creating more doubt, Rask and the Bruins grinded out a shootout win to open their four-game road trip.
They haven’t looked back, with Rask protecting the net like a seasoned mariner helping navigate a ship out of rough seas. He has the look of a future All-Star and has just scratched the surface with his ability.
That bodes well for Boston.
Now the Bruins sit in the No. 6 slot in the East, only six points behind the Penguins for the top spot and ready to continue climbing the conference ladder.
Last season, the Bruins went 11-2 in November and had a playoff berth all but locked up by the end of the month. This season, December could be the month they make their run. They’ve already begun their ascent.
When Thomas returns, don’t worry about any goalie controversy in Boston.
The Bruins are only going to get better. Thomas might have an unorthodox style — and he might get criticized more than any Vezina winner in the history of the NHL — but it’s neither an accident nor a coincidence that he’s in contention to be the starting goaltender for the United States in the Olympics. He’s that good.
And if Thomas is good enough to help the red, white and blue win gold, he should be plenty good enough to help the Black and Gold shoot for a Cup. All the haters need to quit giving him the Rodney Dangerfield treatment and start showing him a little respect and appreciation. The Bruins are lucky to have him and Rask. Julien can’t go wrong with either of them.
Thomas is making the big bucks, so he will remain the No. 1, but Rask is No. 1A. Just as the Red Sox have a pair of aces in their rotation with Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Bruins have a dynamic duo to protect the net.
Having two trusted goaltenders isn’t a bad thing. Some teams don’t even have one.