Rask

WILMINGTON, Mass. – There’s a rookie goaltender sitting atop the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage.

There’s also a rookie goaltender garnering momentum and national attention as a Calder Trophy candidate.

Unbelievably, those rookies are two different people. While Boston’s Tuukka Rask is setting the league on fire and almost singlehandedly keeping the Bruins in the playoffs, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is the one everyone is throwing their bouquets and votes at.

That’s just plain wrong. But Rask doesn’t let it bother him, and even sounded Tuesday like he’d vote for Howard too.

“I know him a little bit; he’s a great guy,” said Rask, who added that he first met Howard at an AHL All-Star Game. “I talked to him a little bit when we were in Detroit earlier in the year. He wasn’t playing that much back then. He worked hard and I think he’s deserved all the hype that’s around him and all the credit for him.”

Yes, Howard does deserve some accolades and should be a contender to make the final three in the Calder race. However, considering Howard ahead of Rask is a travesty. After limiting Washington to three goals Monday night, Rask now has a 1.99 GAA and .930 save percentage, while Howard is fifth in the league in both categories (.923, 2.30 GAA). Sure, Howard has played 60 games to Rask’s 43. But how much more weight do Rask’s games carry when for the last two, three weeks the Bruins have been fighting tooth and nail just to qualify for the playoffs and Boston’s offense has been scraping the bottom of the NHL rankings all season.

Howard’s emergence as a legit No. 1 netminder has helped Detroit recover from an awful start to get into the playoff picture out West. It’s a little easier though when your team is 13th in scoring and the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom are wearing the same uniform as you. How far down Detroit’s roster do you have to go before you’d replace one of the Wings’ players with a Boston player?

Bruins head coach Claude Julien has benefitted most from Rask’s development into one of the best goaltenders in the league. So it’s only fair to let him make a pitch for Rask’s candidacy as the Calder Trophy winner.

“I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t considered. He’s one of those guys that certainly deserves consideration,” said Julien. “He didn’t play as much at the beginning of the year, but what he’s done for us has been unbelievable. His poise, and even these games that we’re playing right now, these pressure-packed games, and for a guy who’s considered a rookie, I think he’s handled himself tremendously.”

That poise was seemingly a fable the Bruins passed on ever since they acquired the netminder’s rights at the 2006 draft. Goldilocks, however, won’t be visiting your house, and Rask is as cold-blooded and fearless in between the pipes as advertised. Even the occasional soft goal, a dagger that could drop many young goaltenders, hasn’t thrown Rask off kilter in what has amounted to an early start for the 2010 playoffs.

His .933 save percentage since the Olympic break is second only to Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak over the same time frame.

“I put the pressure on me sometimes and I don’t let any outside things go into my head. It’s been the same since Day One. Every game I try to approach the same way and just do my best out there,” said Rask.

Maybe the battle shouldn’t be between Rask and Howard. Maybe with Buffalo’s Tyler Myers a lock to be included and the odds-on favorite to win the award, the way to make room for both goalies in the final three for Calder is to drop out one of the forwards. Matt Duchesne has slowed down as Colorado’s season as withered down the stretch, and John Tavares collected a bunch of points for a New York Islanders team that’s back in the sample place it’s always at this time of year – outside the playoff picture.

Sometimes too much value gets put in numbers. In Rask’s case, however, the stats don’t lie and should not be overlooked in the Calder race … unless you want to throw him in the Vezina mix instead.