If you were looking for Tuukka Rask this past Sunday, you’d have to look south of Boston, down route 95, past the signs for Gillette Stadium, and into downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Assigned back to the P-Bruins for the day of a November 18th game versus the Springfield Falcons, Rask returned back to Rhode Island for a second time without any NHL experience.
As the speakers blared out hard rock, the seats at the Dunkin Donuts center were sparsely dotted with Bruins fans as Rask first took the ice for warm-ups. With the brand new four sided scoreboard hanging above center ice, Rask went about his stretching routine alongside the boards letting players warm up the back of the net with their first shots. Once ready to see some pucks, Rask took his time getting into the net, and at first, didn’t seem to go out of his way to stop the puck. Moving side to side, he watched the puck hit his still standing legs or deflect off his blocker into the corner.
Once he had a feel for the puck, everyone got a glimpse of why the Finnish youngster is being so highly thought of. The movements of Rask seem to be more robotic than of human nature. It wouldn’t surprise most if his knees were metal hinges placing him in a picture perfect butterfly every time. His big tall frame continued to pick off pucks in the air moving effortlessly side to side. And then there was a clank off the post with the puck sent straight up into the air, followed by a thunk in the top left side of the net above Rask’s glove hand. The crowd sighed a little all at once. Rask is human after all.
On November 8th, the Montreal Canadiens were set to play the Boston Bruins and the Canadiens were slated to start their future star Carey Price. Bruins fans waited with anticipation to see if they would get to see a battle between two of the NHL’s top young goaltenders. Claude Julien decided to play Tim Thomas and with a 2-1 loss for the B’s, Rask had spent his first run in the NHL as a backup, the world still waiting to see what he had to offer.
Headed into the game at 11-1-1, the P-Bruins were on a high with a great beginning and with their starting goalie back in the pipes, they hoped to continue their winning ways. Though being physically outmatched, the Bruins seemed to keep the pace of the game in their hands, getting shots on the Springfield net. Though he hadn’t faced any shots, Rask was on the move throughout the first half of the period, making his way behind the net, getting into the thick of it, and playing the puck up the boards. It’s things like this that can keep a goalie sharp while not seeing a lot of shots. The playing of the puck lets Rask be a part of the play and stay focused on the puck and the action in his own end.
But then at the 9:47 mark of the first period, the first action Rask saw was a partly screened slap-shot from just inside the blue line; he directed it almost right onto the stick of an open Springfield Falcons forward. Before the shot even hit the back of the net, Rask was shaking his head at the poorly rebounded play. What could be seen as a goalie’s worst nightmare, a goal on the first action of the game, can set an unfavorable tone for the remainder of the contest.
Just a minute later, another blue line shot through traffic made its way through multiple sets of legs and sticks, and underneath the body of a butterflying Rask. The two goals on three shots sent the Providence locals in an uproar as Tuukka left his net visibly upset in attempts to regain his composure after the rough start. A lackadaisical pass to his defenseman across the front of an open net almost made it 3-0 when a breaking Springfield forward just missed knocking the puck in. The end of the period followed with a few confidence-building saves and eventually a P-Bruins goal sending then into the break trailing 2-1.
Everybody in Bruins Nation (more like Bruins county), is awaiting the arrival of their newest savior between the pipes, and with good reason as this one seems to be the real deal. His hot start in Providence has them already forgetting the city’s second Manny, and with his heralded first start, may come the attention that Boston’s other teams have acquired in the past five years. But though it seems he is excelling in the AHL, games like these can show how inexperienced a goalie really is. Every player has bad games, but in the NHL, a bad game can be much more magnified. Two goals on three mistakes could very easily be three out of three.
The second period followed with much of the same. The Bruins had their fair amount of chances but were unable to put a goal on the board. Meanwhile, Tuukka went to work making some good saves but at the 14:37 gave up another big rebound to an open Springfield player’s stick, which in turn boosted the Falcon’s lead to 3-1.
The third period would offer the P-Bruins a glimpse of hope as they scored another goal to bring the game to 3-2 and Rask stopped every shot he saw for a personal victory but it wasn’t enough to win the game. Making 17 stops on 20 shots, it seemed that once Rask settled down into his own game, he was able to read the play well and make quality saves. It may have been the fact that he was recalled from Boston that day, or was tired from travel, but the mental mistakes may have been what led to the loss.
Now being called up yet again, and the Bruins left reeling from a 7-4 loss to Montreal, Bruins fans are wondering if the third time being called up is going to be the charm for Rask. If he were to play on Tuesday, it would be against the Toronto Maple leafs, the team that traded him for Andrew Raycroft, likely the goalie he will face. Tim Thomas more than deserves a break from standing on his head night in and night out, but fans also wonder if that’s something they can afford to loose, even if it’s for only one night.
Though it’s more than likely Rask and Price will have many battles for the title of the NHL’s best young goalie and at some point maybe even the best netminder in the league, maybe this is a score that should be settled first. There may not be a better game to debut in than against the team that traded you away, and proving that they were wrong. Even if this trip up to the big show doesn’t yield any playing experience, Rask will return to Providence where he goes back to work and continues to learn from his mistakes and works towards his big debut.