It's not easy to enter a season with just four NHL starts and seamlessly take over for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, but Tuukka Rask has done exactly that. He made that much clear over the past week, on the way to earning Arbella Player of the Week honors.
Rask was also honored on Thursday night with the Bruins 7th Player Award, which recognized him for going above and beyond expectations this season. Part of that work is evident in his NHL-best 1.99 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
Unfortunately for Rask, he let one slip by him on Thursday night, and it proved to be the game-winner. Still, the Bruins likely would not be in the playoff hunt if Rask hadn't saved the season.
"Of course, you always have high expectations going into the season," Rask said after the 1-0 loss. "You want to play good. But as I said, it’s an honor to get that award and [it lets] you know you’ve done something right."
That may just be the understatement of the year. Consider that Tim Thomas was unquestionably the No. 1 goalie last summer, as he was fresh off a Vezina season and a four-year contract. Rask, who showed plenty of potential, would learn on the bench and start somewhere between 10 and 20 games. Fast forward a bit, and with Thomas much closer to "average" than "excellent" and Rask pacing the NHL's goaltenders, the 23-year-old has made the statement that he can be the netminder of the future for the Bruins.
This week was no exception. After catching a breather on Saturday afternoon, Rask again started Monday night's game on the bench. After Thomas stopped just 11 of 14 shots, though, Rask was called upon to come in cold off the bench.
Rask didn't have much time to warm up, either, as Buffalo's Drew Stafford launched a shot on net just 18 seconds after Rask stepped on the ice. Rask stopped that shot, as well as every other puck sent his way. It wasn't enough though, as the Bruins couldn't dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole and eventually lost 3-2.
The next night, Rask was again perfect, this time completing a 64-minute shutout effort in New Jersey. It took nearly all of the five minutes in overtime for the Bruins to score, but Patrice Bergeron did to give Rask his fifth shutout of the season. On Thursday night, Rask allowed just one of 20 shots to get past him, though the offense couldn't pick him up.
Offensively, the Bruins' challenges seem infinite, but at the very least, Rask has been providing the steady, reliable base that this team needs in net. In fact, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that the team's 7th Player just might be the MVP.