There is an age-old expression that reads, “you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone”. For the Boston Bruins and their fans, no truer words have been spoken when it comes to goaltender Tuukka Rask.
As it did for many of the NHL’s best players, Rask’s season began early in Toronto at the World Cup of Hockey. As a member of Team Finland, he saw action in two games, posting a 0-2-0 record with a 2.02 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
After returning to Boston, the 29-year-old puck stopper played in the Bruins’ first three games of the new season and came away an undefeated record of 3-0-0.
Unfortunately, also like others who played in the World Cup, Rask went down with an injury (reported to be in the groin/hamstring region) forcing him to the sidelines for three games.
That was just the beginning of Boston’s goaltending woes.
On October 22nd, backup netminder, Anton Khudobin, suited up against the Montreal Canadiens. Despite a 27-save effort, the Bruins lost to their arch-rival 4-2.
Two days after that defeat, Khudobin went down with a wrist/hand injury at practice. The team turned to the next two goaltenders on the food chain, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre of the Providence Bruins, Boston’s American Hockey League affiliate.
Subban started the club’s next contest versus the Minnesota Wild but it would not go as hoped. The Wild scored three goals on 16 shots sending Subban to the bench 10:36 into the second period. It was the netminder’s second career start; he has been pulled from each game.
McIntyre made 15 saves in his relief appearance against Minnesota.
McIntyre started the following evening in New York against the Rangers. The Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead but ended up dropping the tilt by a 5-2 score. McIntyre turned aside 26 shots in the loss.
Without Rask, the Bruins had lost three consecutive games and, with a 3-4-0 record, it appeared the season was going to be a long one.
To the relief of all of Bruins Nation, Rask returned for the next game in Detroit on October 29th. He stopped all 24 Red Wings shots, of which many were high-quality scoring chances, to record a 1-0 shutout.
Rask would go on to backstop road wins over the Florida Panthers (2-1) and Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3 shootout) to lead Boston to a 3-0-0 road trip and an overall record of 6-4-0.
Bruins coach, Claude Julien, was very impressed with the play of his goaltender in Florida.
“He looked good tonight,” Julien said after the tilt against the Panthers. “He’s probably the reason we’re standing with two points (in the standings).”
Since losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the cries have been loud and clear from many calling for Rask to be shuttled out of Boston because he “can’t deliver”.
Fans have been quick to blame the goaltender for his team missing the playoffs for the last two seasons and have believed there was a need for a new number one puck stopper, perhaps even Subban, himself.
Clearly, Subban is not ready for the NHL. The general consensus among NHL-types is he is a serviceable AHL netminder but, most likely, will never see regular NHL duty.
McIntyre looks to possess the quickness and skill needed to move up to the Show after gaining more experience at the professional level. One needs to keep in mind, the Minnesota native has seen action in just 34 AHL and two NHL games.
So, how has Rask answered his detractors in 2016?
He has faced 183 shots and has stopped 174 of them on his way to posting a 6-0-0 record with a 1.48 goals against average and a .951 save percentage.
Rask’s win streak is the longest for a Bruins goaltender since Tim Thomas went 8-0-0 during the 2011-2012 season.
By the way, Rask currently sits third in the NHL in wins and sixth in goals against average and in save percentage.
Julien is one who has seen the difference Rask has made this season.
“Since Tuukka’s come back (from injury), our whole game has gotten better,” said Julien after the victory over Tampa Bay. “We’re getting good goaltending. We’re getting better as a team.”
Obviously, 10 total games does not a season make and Rask is not the only Bruin to jump out to a fast start. Offensively, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have carried Boston but ask yourself, where would the Bruins be without Rask for the long-term.
The answer is clear and obvious.
The Hart Trophy “is awarded to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” As we all know, it is not given out in November, however, there is no denying Tuukka Rask has been Boston’s MVP up to this point in the season and there is no real reason to believe that, barring injury, his stellar play will not continue.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.