Bruins Goalie Tuukka Rask Early Favorite For Conn Smythe Trophy

Tuukka RaskBoston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask likely will win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding goaltender during the regular season, but that might not be the only individual award he wins before the 2013-14 campaign ends.

Rask is the clear favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy, an honor given to the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs. We’re only four games into the postseason, but there’s no doubt that Rask has established himself as the top candidate.

Boston took a 3-1 first-round series lead over the Detroit Red Wings with a 3-2 overtime victory Thursday night, one that wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible performance from Rask.

“He’s been so good,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien told reporters after Game 4.

“He’s good, he’s calm, he’s composed. He’s been a great asset to us, he’s been like that all year…For a team to succeed in this league, goaltending is such an important part of your hockey club. (Tuukka) keeps maturing and getting better all the time.”

The Bruins really struggled defensively in the first period, but they were bailed out by their goaltender, who made 14 saves in the opening frame to keep the deficit to just 1-0 after 20 minutes. Detroit easily could have led 3-0 going into the second period.

Rask didn’t even have a chance to stop Niklas Kronwall’s first-period goal because┬áthree players screened him.

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Rask ended Game 4 with 35 saves on 37 shots, two of which were highlight-reel stops that kept Boston in the game when Detroit was making a desperate push to even the series at 2-2. The first notable save was a great glove stop on Tomas Tatar during a second-period penalty kill, and the other was a breakaway save on Justin Abdelkader in overtime.

Rask leads the playoffs in save percentage (.966) and even-strength save percentage (.969), and his impressive performance in short-handed situations is the main reason why Boston ranks No. 1 in penalty killing (9-for-10). He’s also one of five goalies with a first-round shutout. The 27-year-old netminder has faced 119 shots through four games, and he’s saved 115 of them.

Stellar postseason play is nothing new for Rask, who’s built a reputation as a clutch player. His GAA and save percentage have improved in each of the last his last three playoff runs, including Boston’s current journey toward a championship.

Year SV% GAA SO
2009-10 0.912 2.61 0
2012-13 0.940 1.88 3
2013-14 0.966 0.96 1

Even though Rask has been exceptional, he still doesn’t receive enough credit for the Bruins’ success. Critics will point to the deep and talented blue line in front of him or the fundamentally strong defensive system that Julien employs as the reasons why Rask’s numbers are so impressive.

There’s no doubt that Rask benefits from these things, but his play speaks for itself. The Bruins have not played well defensively on a consistent basis against the Red Wings. The one constant for Boston has been Rask, who’s cleaned up many mistakes (most of them from young D-men) with his fantastic rebound control, good positioning and poise under pressure. His save on Drew Miller in Game 1 and breakaway save on Abdelkader in Game 4 are two of the finest stops we’ll see this spring. When he has to make game-altering saves at crucial times, he rarely fails.

If the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Rask isn’t the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Goaltending is the most important factor in the playoffs, and with Rask giving Boston a chance to win every game — especially when his teammates have struggled for long stretches — there’s no doubt he’s been the most valuable player so far.

Photo via Twitter.com/@NHLBruins

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