Many teams would be lucky to have a starting goalie like Tuukka Rask, and the Bruins are one of them. But the B’s are also one of the most unfortunate teams heading into the shortened 2013 season when it comes to netminding.
Not because of anything Rask can or can’t do — it’s because of what Tim Thomas won’t be doing. And that’s being a member of the Boston Bruins.
Some teams lost major assets during the lengthy offseason, but no other team lost a two-time Vezina Award and Conn Smythe winner. Thomas has been at — or near the top — of his game in both the regular and postseason over the last three years and not many teams can say they’ve had a goalie that’s done the same.
The Bruins knew The Tank wasn’t coming back, but that won’t make things easier for the 2013 Bruins goaltending tandem.
Plenty can be and forever should be said about Thomas’ dominance, but the combination of Rask and Thomas over the last three years made the B’s netminding one of the best in the business. Rask offered the Bruins the opportunity to rest Thomas when needed. While that proved to be pretty scarce over the last two seasons (Thomas started 55 games in each of the last two years), the Bruins weren’t plagued with the idea that an aging netminder was their only option. When Rask was called upon, he wasn’t just some backup filling in — he was a budding superstar who not only played extremely well, but also gave everyone in front of him the confidence that hockey teams need to have in their goalie.
For those who have been able to watch him develop — and at times, dominate — Rask has proven that he has what it takes to be an NHL starting goalie. His 47-35-11 record may be misleading, as he’s been primarily a backup in his four-plus NHL seasons. For the Bruins, it’s not a problem that Rask has been a backup goalie for the majority of his NHL tenure, but it will be a problem for the Bruins that Rask and the B’s defense won’t have a Tim Thomas there with him, piloting the last line of defense.
Now that the combination of Rask and Anton Khudobin are there to keep the crease nice and tidy, the Bruins may be looking at a serious issue. All injuries aside, there’s always a chance a goalie goes cold, especially this season where a shortened camp rolls right into a 48-game season, where goalies cannot afford to have a night off.
“I haven’t seen the schedule yet, but I’m assuming it’s going to be every other day,” Rask told ESPN.com on Monday. “So the workload is going to be big, but that’s why you work out so hard in the summertime. As a goalie it will be a tough challenge physically and mentally.”
Don’t expect Rask to fold under the pressure of being the team’s No. 1. Not only is this a big year for the Finnish keeper (he signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal over the summer), he’s been handed the reins before. During the 2010 playoffs, he filled in for an injured Thomas and ousted Ryan Miller and the Sabres in the opening round. Sure, he was between the pipes when the B’s blew their 3-0 series lead to the Flyers in the next round, but that collapse can’t be on his shoulders.
As for his 2013 backup, Khudobin, the 26-year-old isn’t necessarily a pair of pads off the scrap heap, but he’s certainly not the backup goalie the B’s have had the pleasure of having in recent years. Rask has spent some quality time with the Kazakh but, like any relationship, it’s going to take some getting used to. And that goalie-goalie relationship shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I think it’s a big thing for every team,” Rask said. “We’ve had good luck with goalies. Timmy and me got along very well. I know [Khudobin] for a couple of years too, and he’s a great guy. I don’t expect us to have any issues in that matter.”
The future of the B’s netminding couldn’t look brighter, as Rask is entering his prime and prospects Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban can be eased into the spotlight over the next two or three years. However, for the first time in a long time, the Bruins and their fans will be holding their breath when it comes to the last line of defense.