The name Tim Thomas still surfaces occasionally around the Boston Bruins’ dressing room, even now some two years after he led the team to a Stanley Cup championship and a year after he left them to take a sabbatical from the game of hockey.
Thomas was merely sensational in their seven-game victory over the Vancouver Canucks, but was something of a divisive figure for the Bruins last year, his politics sometimes spilling into the dressing room.
Watch: Boston 2, Chicago 1 (OT)
The good news, for Boston, was that it had Thomas’s ready-made replacement, Tuukka Rask, waiting in the wings, when the former decided he didn’t want to play anymore.
And while Thomas was occasionally eccentric the way so many goaltenders are, Rask is merely a refreshingly normal, open personality. In fact, Rask did something virtually unprecedented during these Stanley Cup finals – he made himself available for interviews on consecutive days this weekend, stemming mostly from demand. It was, after all, Rask’s virtuoso performance early in Saturday’s second game of the series, won 2-1 in overtime by the Bruins, which helped Boston to square the series at a game each. The Bruins were outshot 19-4 in the first period and badly outplayed, but survived because Rask gave up just a single goal.
It has been a grind already, with both games going to overtime, meaning the two teams have played the equivalent of three full games. Not surprisingly, the first question to Rask on Sunday involved his state of fatigue. The Bruins overnighted in Chicago on Saturday and then flew home to Boston first thing Sunday morning, where the series will resume Monday night.
Rask acknowledged that overtime can be a strain on goaltenders for one simple reason: “You’re standing there for five hours. You’re obviously not making saves all the time, but you’re still standing and being focused. It’s a lot of mental stress and your legs get tired at some point too when you’re standing up for hours.”
But Rask hastened to add: “I don’t think we feel as fresh as a Tuesday in October, but considering the circumstances, I think everyone is feeling pretty good. It’s not going to get any easier the longer you go, but we’re definitely used to playing every other night. It’s something you learn to control the fatigue factor and save your energy a bit. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”
When asked how Rask’s goaltending compares to what Thomas delivered two years ago, Bruins’ coach Claude Julien was adamant: “I think it’s just as good, no doubt. Tim has been a great goaltender for us. When you lose a guy like that, there’s always that fear that you’re not going to be able to replace him.
“Tuukka’s done an outstanding job. To me, he’s been as much of a contributor to our team as Tim was two years ago.”
Rask, of course, was the prospect the Toronto Maple Leafs surrendered a few years back in the ill-fated Andrew Raycroft trade and has had mostly good moments, punctuated by a couple of missteps, in his apprenticeship for the starting job. Even that noted Twitterati, Roberto Luongo (@Strombone1) gave Rask a big thumbs-up, tweeting Saturday night “#RASK4SOCHI … (I don’t care get him a passport).”
This then looks like Rask’s coming-out party to a lot of people – everyone but Rask, it would seem, who says he didn’t feel as if he had anything to prove to people going into these playoffs as the team’s new No. 1.
“I mean, I think I’ve answered the question a hundred times already,” said Rask, good-naturedly. “It’s always good to play in the playoffs. I don’t try to prove anything to anybody else but myself and my teammates. This spring has definitely been successful so far for our team. We’ll just try to keep that going.”