Claude Julien Has Full Confidence in Tuukka Rask Taking Over As Starter, Doesn’t See Tim Thomas Sitting Out As ‘An Issue’

Claude Julien Has Full Confidence in Tuukka Rask Taking Over As Starter, Doesn't See Tim Thomas Sitting Out As 'An Issue'BOSTON — The Bruins have gone to great lengths to keep the bulk of the core of their 2011 championship team together, including the signing of head coach Claude Julien to a multiyear extension.

But there is one key member of that Cup-winning squad who won't be around any longer. That was of his own choosing, not the Bruins' decision. But regardless of the reasons for Tim Thomas' bizarre decision to sit out the upcoming season, the fact remains that Boston will be without the two-time Vezina and 2011 Conn Smythe winner for the 2012-13 season.

The Bruins aren't too worried though. They've overcome losses before, and they happen to have a pretty good replacement ready to take over in Tuukka Rask.

"Well, you know, we lost a guy by the name of Marc Savard who led our team in scoring every year and we were able to adapt," Julien said after his extension was formally announced Tuesday at the Garden. "I see that as a same kind of a challenge."

While still deep at center with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Chris Kelly, not to mention the ability of Tyler Seguin to move back to his natural spot in the middle, the Bruins never did truly replace Savard. Their ongoing struggles on the power play offer proof of that.

But in goal that should be less of an issue, as Rask has already shown himself to be more than capable of holding his own between the pipes. Rask was a starter once already, supplanting Thomas in 2009-10 and finishing first in the NHL in both goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931). Last year, his numbers were better than Thomas as well, posting a 2.05 GAA to Thomas' 2.36 and a .929 save percentage to Thomas' .920.

Julien doesn't discount what Thomas has meant to the Bruins in the past, particularly in their 2011 Cup run, but those performances by Rask give the veteran coach plenty of confidence in his netminding even with Thomas refusing to play.

"There's no doubt, nobody's going to deny what Tim's done here for our hockey club over the years but we've mentioned that Tuukka is a very capable goaltender," Julien said. "He's got his opportunity to showcase that this year and I think when I saw [Anton] Khudobin play, whether it was training camp or whether it was when he was with us that game in Ottawa or in practice, you can see a goaltender who has not only improved but has matured."

Khudobin is a bit more of a wild card with just seven games of NHL experience. But he does have a 5-1-0 record, 1.32 GAA and .961 save percentage in those brief appearances, including a 44-save effort in a 3-1 win in Ottawa in his lone appearance with the Bruins last year. Khudobin will take over as the backup in Boston, while the Bruins also replenished the position throughout their system this offseason by drafting Malcolm Subban in the first round and signing Swedish import Niklas Svedberg.

"I honestly have a lot of confidence in our goaltending," Julien said. "Obviously we drafted and we've signed a few goaltenders as well. I think our depth is there. I don't really see that as an issue. And that's because I have the confidence in what I have in front of me right now."

The Bruins have kept the core of the team together over the past couple years, but they've also made sure they were ready for the loss of a key piece or two. Having a goalie like Rask to plug into the net while Thomas sits at home will give a coach that kind of peace of mind.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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