Post-bye week Tuukka Rask is even more elite than usual for Bruins

Matt Kalman
February 18, 2020 - 2:26 pm

Don’t look now, but Tuukka Rask woke up Tuesday morning Edmonton with the NHL’s best goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage (.931).

Even as the Bruins goalie approaches his 33rd birthday next month (March 10), he’s emerging as the favorite for his second Vezina Trophy six years after he won his first.

Despite arguments to the contrary, Rask has always been an elite goaltender, with the exception possibly of the 2015-16 season and part of the 2016-17 season, as his save percentage numbers from 2009-10 through 2013-14 show (.931, .918, .929, .929, .930). His timeshare with Jaroslav Halak has been one of general manager Don Sweeney’s creations, with Boston currently leading the NHL in goals against (2.32 per game) one season after finishing third.

Rask is always reticent about talking about his keys to success and reasons for his ability to play at a high level in his 11th NHL season, but there’s one development that he agreed to briefly talk about before the Bruins left on their four-game road trip: his success after bye weeks.

Players around the NHL vary in their opinions on whether they want to take a week off (or more considering the decision to put the bye week and the All-Star break consecutively in the schedule starting in 2018-19) during the season. Even before the NHL began working a break into its schedule, Rask was for it.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s awesome,” he said.

In six games since this year’s All-Star/bye week, Rask has a .958 save percentage. He hasn’t allowed more than two goals since Dec. 23, and hasn’t allowed more than three goals since Dec. 17.

Last season he was similarly hot out of the break with a .925 save percentage in his first six games after returning from vacation.

“It’s a great thing to have that bye week for sure. I mean it’s a busy part of the season, so you kind of break the norm and get your mental rest,” Rask said. “But I don’t know, this year I felt good all year long.”

You don’t put up the type of totals Rask has put up this season without being consistent from the start. But even when the bye week was separated from the All-Star break, Rask took advantage of it. In 2018 he had a .942 save percentage in six games after not playing from Jan. 7-12.

This year the bye week fell at the perfect time for the second straight season, as Rask was injured with three games remaining before the break. He was able to miss just those three games and avoid a one-game suspension that he would’ve had to serve because he had announced his decision to skip the All-Star Game (Rask said he had no idea how the suspension was rescinded). He was injured in the last game before the break last season and used it to rest up before making his return in the Bruins’ second game back.

The hot hand didn’t desert Rask during the time off and the Bruins have been better for it. It probably helped him be on top of his game after the Bruins’ long wait to play in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final and be a reason he etches his name on the Vezina again this year.

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