Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask has saved his best for the playoffs, and after splitting time with Jaroslav Halak throughout the regular season, it’s evident No. 40 has extra gas in the tank as Boston chases its seventh Cup in franchise history.
The 32-year-old played in 46 games this season – his lightest workload since the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. When comparing his postseason numbers this year to the 2013 playoff run that saw the Bruins make the Stanley Cup Final, the similarities are difficult to deny.
Rask has had to prove himself in one of hockey’s most passionate markets, often being targeted as the scapegoat for the Bruins’ shortcomings. But the Finn has been extremely reliable since becoming the team’s full-time starter in 2012, even capturing a Vezina Trophy in 2014.
Perhaps the real problem is just how much the Bruins have relied on him. Between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 seasons, Rask’s 311 games played and 17,980 minutes logged led all NHL goaltenders. During that span, the team found little success as the 6-foot-3 backstopper’s numbers continued to decline.
This season, Rask ranked outside of the top 20 in terms of both games played and minutes logged between the pipes.
Only Rask knows for sure if fatigue has been a factor over the previous several seasons, but the numbers show that the less of a load he’s had to carry during the year, the better the outcome is for the Bruins.
Perhaps the most concerning part for the teams that remain between the Bruins and the Stanley Cup this postseason is the fact Rask gets stronger as the playoffs wear on – another sign the netminder may have some energy in reserve.
It’s not just the volume of his incredible work, either, but the timing of it that’s made this run so special.
Rask made 54 saves on a combined 57 shots through two elimination games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1. With the Bruins down 2-1 in their second-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he made 39 saves to steal Game 4. Since that victory, the Bruins have won five straight games and Rask has conceded just eight goals.
The veteran deserves a ton of credit for his play this season, but it would be remiss not to mention the team in front of him. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has implemented a defense-first mentality, stressing the importance of limiting high-danger scoring chances.
With the Bruins on the verge of making their third Stanley Cup Final appearance this decade, it looks as though the decision to lighten Rask’s regular-season workload has unlocked Boston’s full potential.
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