BOSTON — Friday after his off-ice workout and treatments, ailing Boston Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez explained that there’s no rush for him to return because the team and fellow netminder Tim Thomas have played so well in his absence.
Well, now he knows there’s one more reason he can take his sweet time. It turns out Bruins super-prospect Tuukka Rask is the real deal. Allow me to overreact to Rask’s 35-save shutout over the New York Rangers today at TD Banknorth Garden and declare: “Rask is ready.”
After all, I’m not the only one convinced that the Bruins now go three goaltenders deep.
“Everyone in this room definitely had confidence in him. We’ve seen enough of Tuukka to know how good of a goalie he is,” rugged winger Shawn Thornton said after the Bruins’ 1-0 victory. “So there was no talk, obviously, before the game of let’s make it easy on him. We’ve got tons of confidence in anyone who’s in net, so he did a hell of a job tonight – just like he did last year, same thing.”
Center Marc Savard, who scored the game’s lone goal, echoed Thornton’s thoughts.
“We’re confident with whoever’s in there and tonight it was Tuukka,” he said. “Give the kid credit. He’s been waiting for his opportunity and he took advantage of it tonight. He’s an NHL goaltender, and we all know that. He’s going to get his time and right now he’s doing the job for us.
Rask admitted that he was a little more nervous for his first NHL game appearance of this season than he regularly would be. But his butterflies soon departed and left him to make his fourth career NHL start the kind that earned him the game puck (which will make its way home to Finland to find a place in the trophy case). Knowing that the players in front of him don’t think of him as anything other than an NHL puck-stopper gave Rask a boost.
“Of course it feels good that guys feel confident when I’m in the net,” the 21-year-old said. “But I played a couple games in training camp and it felt really good. If you play good, guys start to feel more comfortable when you’re in the net. That’s how it goes.”
And that’s what this one-game audition was all about. Everyone knows that Rask is a world-class talent. To see him star in AHL action is to watch the maturation of a guy playing just his second season of North American hockey after a few years playing against men as a teenager in his home country. But lots of talented goaltenders have failed because they’ve lacked to earn the support of the players in front of them. It’s not necessarily something they’ve done to bring on the descension in the ranks, sometimes it just happens. Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen can testify to that. Thomas has never been in that position.
But now Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, the man who really counts in this situation, knows how his club responds with the rookie in net. He knows that Rask in net doesn’t take the air out of his players’ balloon, it doesn’t make them panic or change their approach to the game. So, most importantly, he knows he can play let’s make a deal. Once Fernandez is back healthy and in the form that’s pushed him near the top in both major goaltending statistical categories, the bidding should begin. There’s no need to hesitate, no need to play games with Fernandez’s mind, no need to hold back on the Rask reins.
Chiarelli will be dealing from a position of strength, and with contending teams always looking for top-notch goaltending, the suitors should be lining up five and six deep. Getting Fernandez’s cap hit off the books and filling that slot with at least some secondary scoring (because those always-coveted puck-moving defensemen are so hard to pry away) could be the move that makes this Bruins club Cup-worthy this year and beyond.
You know that with Rask ready and Thomas probably willing to cut a deal to stay in the city that’s become his second home and made him a household name, the Bruins are not going to re-sign Fernandez. So it’s time to just do it. Chiarelli has five weeks until the deadline, but if Fernandez comes back next week the GM has to cut a deal soon after to avoid another injury to the fragile puck-stopper.
Is this an overreaction to one stellar game between the pipes by Rask against the No. 27 offense in the league? Hell, yeah! But sometimes you’ve got to overreact to get things done. The Stanley Cup hasn’t been in the Bruins’ possession in more than three decades, so maybe it’s time to get overzealous.