BOSTON — Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask had a lot of high expectations to live up to this season. Coming off of a Stanley Cup Final run, armed with a huge new contract and getting ready to enter his first full 82-game regular season as the starter, there may have been some pressure on the young goaltender.
If Rask felt any of that pressure, he certainly didn’t show it. He was named one of the league’s three finalists for the Vezina Trophy on Friday, the award given out to the NHL’s top goaltender. The nomination is the first of his career and even more validation for a dominant season from start to finish.
Rask was excited to learn of the nomination, but with the Bruins in the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Rask has eyes on a much bigger prize at the moment.
“It’s a great honor to be nominated,” Rask admitted Friday. “Obviously it’s something you don’t necessarily — you dream about these individual awards when you’re a kid, too. It’s great recognition, but everybody knows were a team-first team and it’s something that comes after the biggest trophy.”
Still, Rask’s regular season was among one of the best in franchise history. He was the only goal in the league to finish in the top five in shutouts, save percentage, goals against average and wins. He lead the league with seven shutouts, and his .930 save percentage was second in the league. He was also quick to credit his teammates, too. Rask’s performance is often times unfairly minimized by those who classify him as a product of the Bruins’ defensive-minded system. That alone may cost him the award, but Rask will take all the help he can get.
“You don’t get these nominations or wins for those trophies without your teammates, obviously,” he said. “If you look at our team, it’s built — our defense is great, and we have such good depth on offense and guys score a lot of goals, but they still take pride in their defensive game, too. So from a goalie standpoint, that’s a huge help.”
Rask’s performance this season was a pretty good way for him to prove himself in the first year of a big contract. Rask signed an eight-year, $56 million contract extension last summer that made him one of the highest-paid goalies in the league. He apparently made it a point to make sure he proved his worth in the first season after signing that big ticket.
“I feel like I wasn’t a disappointment,” Rask said. “I guess it’s something — you just try to be as good as people think you are and you think you are. So I accomplished that in the regular season and there’s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”
He’s been even better so far in the playoffs. Rask gave another sparkling performance on Thursday night, as he made 35 saves in the Bruins’ overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. Rask now has a .966 save percentage and a 0.96 goals against average through the Bruins’ four postseason games. If he keeps that up, he’ll be on the short list for the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs MVP as well.