Rask/By S. Bradley

Stop thinking about Tuukka Rask’s confidence as though it’s some sort of Fabergé egg in the hands of the Tasmanian Devil.

Sure, Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s decision to pull

the second-year goaltender after one period tonight in Buffalo was

a tad controversial, considering Rask hadn’t played since Dec. 15

and the Bruins were still in the lead, 4-3. But if you think Rask

is suddenly going to curl up in the corner and forget how to play

his position just because his coach kept him on a short leash in a

game the Bruins still lost, 7-6, in a shootout, you haven’t been

following the 23-year-old’s career and his history of bouncing

back. I find it hilarious that the same masses that wanted Julien

and the Bruins’ brass to hold players more accountable now seem to

be ready to riot over the decision to yank Rask. Let’s face it, the

kid wasn’t ready to play tonight. That he was burned by Jason

Pominville’s backhander 2:06 into the game wasn’t the surest sign

Rask wasn’t prepared. It was the fact that the sequence leading up

to that score started with Rask strolling out of his crease and

turning a routine dump-in into a Buffalo scoring chance that

required Zdeno Chara to make a save on Thomas Vanek’s shot to the

front. Rask was out of his crease again later in the period on a

play that didn’t result in a Buffalo goal. But Drew Stafford’s

first of three goals on the night scored from below the goal line

off Rask and in through the short side sealed the goaltender’s

fate. That he wasn’t ready for the shot, and didn’t react quick

enough to cover it after it hit him, proved that all his hard work

in practice the last couple weeks did little to ready him for

tonight. And so the coach, who earlier this week benched two of his

stars – Marc Savard and Nathan Horton – for a large chunk of the

third period in a win at Tampa, and has his team in first place in the division with games in hand, made another decision he thought

would give his team the best chance to win. Had Tim Thomas played

even half as well tonight as he has through the season’s first

three months, Boston would’ve left HSBC Arena with two points and

the quick hook would’ve looked like a stroke of genius. Now to be

in a tizzy about Julien not having confidence in Rask or Rask now

becoming a shell of his former self because of tonight’s happenings

is a ridiculous overreaction. The 16 days between games played for

Rask might’ve been a little extreme in terms of rest, but as a pro

in the world’s greatest hockey league Rask has to be ready to go

when he gets the nod. He can now file this game away along with

every other learning experience he has collected over the last

several years. Remember, Rask played in the men’s league as a

teenager in Finland. He came over to North America and the Bruins

made it clear he would get seasoning in the AHL before they’d turn

to him as an NHL goaltender. His great rookie season with the

Providence farm club ended in disappointment, in large part because

he struggled in a second-round playoff series. He came back the

next year and put up better numbers and took the P-Bruins one round

deeper into the postseason. Although it’s tough to reflect on, Rask

was the starting goaltender for one of the worst playoff collapses

in sports history last spring. He didn’t retire or do anything

drastic to himself after having a hand in the Bruins dropping that

3-0 series lead to Philadelphia. He came back to Boston this season

ready to make his sophomore year a success. If you throw out

tonight and opening night, his numbers in limited action are

evidence he is still a great goaltender. Tim Thomas is in the midst

of a season even some Hall-of-Fame goaltenders wouldn’t dare dream

about. That’s why Julien has ridden him so much the last few weeks

and why he went to the veteran when he could feel that Rask wasn’t

up to par tonight. But Julien knows he’s going to need both

goaltenders over the next few months and Rask knows that too.

Hopefully, he’ll look back at tonight and figure out what

adjustments to make in his game to be more ready to pick up where

he left off, even if there are a couple weeks between his starts.

History has shown that adversity has been no match for Rask’s

talents. One benching from the coach isn’t going to change

that.