WILMINGTON, Mass. – Bruins rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask admits he made a mistake when the Providence Bruins, as owners of the best record in the American Hockey League, opened the 2008 Calder Cup playoffs.
Rask now believes that his first run as a starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring won’t be anything like that first failed foray into the AHL postseason, when the highly favored P-Bruins fell in the Atlantic Division finals partly because of some poor play from Rask.
“Maybe my first year, I was a little too excited,” said Rask, after his first NHL playoff practice today at Ristuccia Arena. “I knew we had a great team and I think I got carried away there. Last year, I played the same way I did during the year, and I didn’t change a thing, and I think that was the biggest difference in those two years. I learned how to keep myself calm.”
That calmness has continued for Rask, who led the P-Bruins one step further (they lost in the East finals to eventual Calder Cup-champ Hershey) last spring in his second season in North America, and carried Boston into the postseason this year despite the league’s 30th-ranked offense and an anemic power play.
Rask led the league in goals-against average and save percentage, and took over the No. 1 goaltender position from ’09 Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas for good March 29, when he went into the game in relief of Thomas. Rask made the next six starts until the Bruins had secured a playoff berth and Thomas was allowed to start the regular-season finale. When the stakes were highest, Rask allowed just eight goals over those six contests.
“We felt when we made that decision to have him here this year … that he was ready,” said head coach Claude Julien, who had the unenviable task of picking between Rask and Thomas all season. “The one thing that we talked about is, ‘how are we going to kind of bring him in?’ We certainly didn’t want to throw him to the wolves. We wanted to give him an opportunity here to slowly work his way in, and the more confidence he got the more he got to play. We were allowed to do that because we had a good goaltender to work with.
“It got to the point where he was so good, you couldn’t do otherwise but keep putting him in.”
Rask is one of eight goaltenders in the 2010 Cup playoffs without any previous NHL postseason experience. He says that he plans to just play the same way he has all season, but he might be in for a rude awakening. Over the last couple years, several Bruins players expressed astonishment at the speed of aggression in the games and the vociferousness of the crowds in the NHL playoffs as compared to the regular season.
The 23-year-old, however, doesn’t want to think much about anything other than stopping pucks.
“I think that’s the biggest thing: the attention. Every game is a full house, the fans are really loud and players are intense. I think that’s the only thing (different),” Rask said. “Maybe if you think about it too much, it lets you get off your game a little bit. But if you stay calm, stay focused, it’ll be good.”
While he had great success against pretty much every team he faced this season, Rask was really unbeatable against Buffalo, which he beat four times. He knows, though, that those regular season accomplishments will pale in comparison if he falls on his face in the playoffs.
“Every player will be remembered from the postseason,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you play good in the regular season if you suck in the playoffs. You try to be as good as you can and make a good run.”
The Bruins are banking on making many runs with Rask in the years ahead. If he doesn’t succumb to first-year playoff jitters, he might be able to make turn his first playoff appearance into an inaugural run beyond the first round.