WILMINGTON, Mass. — Tuukka Rask is used to being patient, but waiting for an opposing forward to commit to a move on a breakaway is a little different than waiting two weeks — or more — between starts.
Rask has been relegated to backup duty since the season opener on Oct. 9 thanks to Tim Thomas' amazing start to the season. If Rask gets his second start this year against the Rangers on Saturday, it will have been exactly two weeks between appearances for the young Finnish netminder.
And there's no guarantee he'll get the nod in that one, after Thomas turned in another stellar effort against Washington on Thursday. So at what point does the long layoff become a liability and the team risks having Rask too rusty to be effective?
"I've seen all kinds of situations, a goalie not play for three weeks, a month and he goes in there and plays well," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after practice on Friday. "If you practice hard and stay sharp, yeah the game's not quite the same as a practice, but overall you should be OK.
"And Tuukka, one of the things that he's really been good at since last year is that he practices hard and practices well," added Julien. "That's something that at a younger age we didn't see from him when we sent him to Providence. He's staying sharp and when he's called upon, he'll be ready."
Rask has been taking full advantage of whatever practice time he has to stay sharp, even staying on the ice for extra work after the formal practices are over.
"That's why I try to do that stuff at the end there after practice," said Rask. "Try to do game-like drills and get in situations like what happens in a game and keep your reflexes sharp."
Rask also tries to stay mentally sharp during games when he's serving as the backup.
"You can't be 100 percent obviously," said Rask. "But you watch the game and try to mentally be in the net and see those plays happen and imagine what you would do. It's kind of 50-50. You can make it helpful if you want, if you're not watching the crowd instead of the game."
For a guy who led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage last season and started every game in the playoffs for the Bruins last spring, Rask's approach to his temporary relegation to backup duties has been refreshing. He's remained supportive of Thomas and used practices as a way to push himself and improve his game.
"You try to make it a fun challenge for yourself," said Rask. "You try to practice like it's a game. Obviously it's always different when the game comes. There's fewer shots than in practice and they're different shots and there are screens in front of you. It's challenging, but you can make it fun and enjoy it."
This also isn't a completely new experience for Rask, though it's been a long time since he had to wait this long between starts.
"I've done it, but not for a while," said Rask. "But it doesn't matter. I try to think of it like when you take the whole summer off, then play the first exhibition game. It's the same thing. It's all in your head really."
And Rask is keeping his head as clear as possible, not dwelling on his lack of game action.
"I think the more you think about it, the more you screw yourself up," said Rask.
Rask might finally get back in action on Saturday, and the Rangers could be the perfect opponent for him. Rask is 2-1 with a 1.34 GAA, .957 save percentage and one shutout in three starts against New York. That shutout came in his lone appearance with the big club in 2008-09, as he was called up for a Jan. 31 matinee and posted a 35-save shutout against the Rangers. He spent the rest of the season in Providence, finishing his NHL year with a perfect 0.00 GAA and 1.000 save percentage in the NHL.
"I remember that one pretty good," said Rask. "It was a Saturday afternoon. I was pretty pumped getting the call-up and getting the chance to play. That was a good game. That would be great to have that [0.00 GAA] every year."
While Rask will happily look back upon that game against the Rangers, he wouldn't comment about possible playing against New York again on Saturday.
"No, it's a secret," said Rask. "I can't say if I'm playing or not."
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