Everyone around Boston has heard this question asked hundreds of times over the past couple of months. When will the old Tuukka Rask finally show up? The Boston media is quick to write off a guy like Tuukka after a few bad performances. “But look at how good Chad Johnson has been playing,” they say. It’s time to lay off Rask and take a look at how well he’s actually been playing the past couple of months.
The Tuukka hate came to a head in his Olympic debut two weeks ago when he let up four goals on only twenty shots to Austria. It didn’t matter that the Fins won the game 8-4. Tuukka was being just as unreliable between the pipes as he had been for the Bruins over the last couple of months. But then something happened. All of a sudden Rask became the hero of the Finnish team. With Teemu Selanne putting the pucks in the opposing net and Tuukka preventing any from entering their own, the Fins breezed through the tournament and past the United States to walk home with the gold.
Rask ended the Games with a 3-0-1 record, a .921 Save Percentage and a 1.75 Goals Against Average. Those statistics sky rocket to a .957 SV% with a 0.75 GAA when that first game is factored out. He allowed only three goals in those last four games, including a shutout against Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk and the rest of the NHL’s finest playing for Team USA. The “TUUUUKK” chants started ringing out through Boston once again.
Now everyone is asking if Rask can bring his spectacular performance at the Olympics back with him to Boston. But what everyone fails to realize is that Tuukka’s been bringing this kind of performance to the Bruins for the past four months. He may not be pulling off the postseason heroics that Boston fans got to enjoy night after night during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he posted three shutouts, including two against the league-leading Penguins offense, a .940 SV% and a 2.09 GAA, but his numbers for this season aren’t far off.
Anyone can put up spectacular numbers for four games in the Olympics or 22 games in the most important four series of the year, but Rask has proven time and time again that he can back them up in the regular season. Rask’s record stands at 25-13-4 this season. He leads the league in shutouts with five and is in the top five in both Save Percentage and Goals Against Average with .928 SV% and 2.11 GAA. No other Olympic goalie is higher than him. So why the criticism?
He had a bad stretch before the Olympics, but still only lost six games in the month leading up to Opening Ceremonies. And the pre-Olympics slump for the Bruins’ cannot be put on Tuukka alone, the team struggled as a whole. Sure Rask is known for having somewhat of a hothead, but the Boston media runs away with the fact that he was pulled for the fourth time against the Montreal Canadians in favor of Johnson. No goalie is perfect every game and Rask has been a solid, consistent goaltender for the Bruins. No one thought anyone could be as good as Tim Thomas after he carried the Bruins to a Stanley Cup in 2011, but Tuukka took that challenge and proved everyone wrong. Just two years later the B’s were back in the Finals, this time riding on the back of a new goaltender who was no less spectacular than his Vezina Trophy-winning predecessor.
Only time will tell if Rask can pull off more heroics during this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Bruins are on the right track to make another solid run. Even if the Bruins don’t ride the phrase “Saved by Rask!” into the Finals again, is a perfect performance every night and carrying the team to the Finals every year what it takes to be considered a good goalie? If this is the case, teams across the NHL need to start taking a close look at their own goaltender’s performances.
Yes, Johnson has been playing great in a time when Rask wasn’t the hottest. And he’ll get his chance again Wednesday night against the Sabres to prove once that he still has what it takes while Rask makes his return from the Olympics. But why write off one of the top five goaltenders in the National Hockey League in favor of a backup goalie getting his first real minutes of play in the NHL?
Johnson is posting impressive numbers and has exceeded Bruins fans’ expectations. But look at how good Tuukka Rask has been playing.