Kalman: Bruins’ Rask embraces Boston’s championship-or-bust attitude

Matt Kalman
October 02, 2018 - 5:32 pm

Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

On the eve of starting the Bruins’ season-opener for the seventh straight year, Tuukka Rask knows that for however long he wears the pads and mask in addition to his black and gold sweater, he’ll be held to a higher standard than most, if not all, of his teammates.

It’s championship or bust for the Bruins’ goaltender in the eyes of many of his observers.

“Probably, in this city especially, yeah,” Rask told WEEI.com in a post-practice chat at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday. “You’ve got certain positions on certain teams I guess, people judge you by whether you win or not. I haven’t won yet, but maybe this is the year.”

Rask may feel his resume is incomplete, but the lack of a championship shouldn’t cost Rask a lofty perch among the greatest Boston athletes, past and present. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2014, took the Bruins to the 2013 Stanley Cup final and is second on the NHL all-time save percentage list (.9221, just behind Dominik Hasek’s .9223).

His streak of opening-night starts is second in Bruins history to Tiny Thompson, who started 10 in a row 1928-29 to 1937-38.

Table courtesy NHL Statistics

But that streak will soon be dwarfed by a couple other Bruins all-time records Rask will set this season. Heading into the season-opener at the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, Rask is second to Thompson in games played with 449, 19 from tying the Hall of Famer. Rask is second to Thompson in wins, 238-252.

With a potential championship season front and center in his mind, though, Rask can only mildly marvel at his upcoming accomplishments.

“It’s a natural thing, it happens when you’re part of an organization for a long time,” he said. “And once you retire from this game you can look back and see where you’re at. But other than that I don’t think you can put too much thinking in that during the season.”

Longevity when it comes to Bruins goaltenders is nothing to dismiss. They seemingly changed goaltenders more often than drivers change the oil in their cars for decades before Rask’s arrival in Providence as a 20-year-old in 2008. He signed an eight-year contract worth $7 million per season with Boston in July 2013 and his tenure with the Bruins has been about more than games played, wins and saves. He’s provided stability where there was none between the pipes for generations. He’s been a source of peace of mind for an organization that’s known for years it had to find 18 skaters and a backup goalie but didn’t have to worry about looking for a new No. 1.

All the while Rask has been the perfect embodiment of what it takes to play a high-profile position in this town, embracing the pressure rather than ducking from it or pretending it doesn’t exists.

“Well you got to appreciate the fact that people watch the team play and they care about it,” he said. “So I think that’s great. You find some other cities in America where hockey’s not that big of a deal. So we’re very fortunate playing Boston, in a big sports city, so just happy to be a part of that group.”

Rask’s 31 now and even he admits he’s “turning the corner” in a career that’s kept him in one city, a place where he lives most of the year and is raising two children. He’s done it all for Boston, except that one thing that separates Tom Brady from Drew Bledsoe, Curt Schilling from Roger Clemens, and for now, Rask from Tim Thomas. Of course, Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo – all Rask contemporaries – are also Cup-less and take carrying levels of grief for it depending on their city of residence.

But you won’t hear Rask bring up the company he keeps among goalies still in pursuit of a first championship. You won’t see him point to his place in the Bruins record books or bring up the fact that during a couple down years he was overworked by the Bruins (199 games played from 2014-15 through 2016-17).

Rask considers himself “100 percent” Bostonian. He’s lived here for more than a decade, spends most of the year here and raises his Boston-born kids here. He’s witnessed the surge in Boston championships across the sports, and if the bar is set at him winning the Bruins another Cup for him to be considered a success, he’s willing to tackle that challenge. For that attitude, in addition to his accomplishments and what he’s meant to the Bruins, he should already be “100 percent” a Boston great.