Tuukka Rask is among the best goalies in the National Hockey League, but he’s become an easy target to those looking for a scapegoat when things go wrong for the Boston Bruins.
That narrative of Rask being an underachiever, particularly in the postseason, is a theory that’s gained steam thanks to the yammering of hockey “experts” who occupy afternoon drive time airwaves.
But the reality is Rask has the second-best save percentage in NHL history, and the 11th best in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And as polarizing as he seems to be, those who have played with the Finnish netminder are quick to defend him.
That was apparent Monday when ex-Bruin and now-Florida Panthers vice president of business operations Shawn Thornton voiced his support for Rask on WEEI’s “Dale and Keefe.”
“I skated with (Rask) during the lockout with a lot of other players in the NHL and everyone said ‘we can’t believe you have to shoot on him every day in practice, how do you guys have any confidence whatsoever?'” Thornton said. “I feel bad for (Tuukka), obviously it’s like being the quarterback or the pitcher, if you win the game you get all the glory, if you don’t you’re stuck carrying the blame.
“I’m biased because he’s a good friend of mine to be completely honest, but I can’t think of a goalie that has been more consistently at the top of the league in the last 8-9 years,” Thornton continued. “There’s going to be ups and downs, but if you ask anybody in the league they’re going to say they hate playing against him. He makes the game look easy and when he’s on he’s really on.”
The Bruins’ season ended in disappointment Sunday, as they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs. After claiming Game 1, Boston imploded, dropping the next four games.
Despite the result, Thornton defended Rask’s role in the series loss.
“I watched a lot of that series, I’d be hard-pressed to find a goal you could put solely on him, and I’d be fast to argue the fact that the one game they were down 2-0 it should have been 4-0 if he didn’t make two miraculous saves in the first period,” Thornton said. “I know he’s always going to be in the shadows because he was the backup the year we won, until he wins his own, but listen he’s been a rock for that organization and I strongly have opinionated that he’s the guy for that team. I’ll tell you right now, if you guys don’t want him we’ll take him.”
Thornton wrapped up his endorsement of Rask by doubling down on the respect he has earned from teams around the league.
“It’s not a year or two, he’s been in the league for a decade now,” Thornton said. “I’m not sure why he’s polarizing, like I said I think there’s 30 other teams that would be happy to snatch him up if somebody didn’t want him.”
Rask may never shake the label some have given him, but as evidenced by what Thornton had to say, it’s clear the goalie’s teammates and opponents alike hardly view him as a problem.
Thumbnail photo via Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports Images