Netminder Tuukka Rask‘s career path with the Boston Bruins is rather different from most other NHL goaltenders. He has only played one full season in the Boston net, won a Stanley Cup as a backup in 2011 and after serving as the primary goalie for the second half of the 2009-10 season and the playoffs, he was supplanted by Tim Thomas the following season. Rask took his lumps, and took a team-friendly, one-year contract in 2012. In an extremely risky move, one that could have backfired had Rask stumbled a season ago, everything worked out. And now, the Finnish goalie was rewarded with a Vezina Trophy on Tuesday night at the 2014 NHL Awards.
Rask shined in his first stint as the Bruins’ starter, taking over for Thomas in 2010. While Boston faltered in the playoffs, coughing up a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semis, Rask became an easy scapegoat despite his stellar numbers. Rask posted a league-best 1.97 goals against average and .931 save percentage while also finishing in a tie for fourth with five shutouts. Oh, and his incredible numbers were also in only 45 games. Despite his phenomenal performance, he was not nominated for the Vezina or Rookie of the Year awards. Talk about snubbed.
Just before the NHL lockout of 2012-13, the Bruins named Rask the starting goalie and shipped Thomas to the New York Islanders. The one-year contract Rask signed was a giant risk for the goalie, and a giant opportunity for Boston. Had he faltered, the Bruins would not have been on the hook for a massive contract, and could have found another goalie elsewhere. But, Rask’s performance in 2013, and especially in the playoffs, proved he was worth a long-term deal to lock up a top-flight goaltending talent. He was rewarded with an eight-year, $56 million contract extension.
With all of that being said, Rask’s Vezina-winning season was one that showcased his ability to be a dominant force for the league’s best team. He was the only goalie to finish in the top-five of all major statistical categories. He led the league in shutouts and save percentage. Rask was the best goalie in hockey. Period. Now, the Bruins have the reigning best goalie in the NHL locked up for the next seven seasons as he enters his prime. It is not out of the question to expect Rask to compete for multiple Vezina’s in the near future. While his individual accolades deserve acknowledgement, he would be the first to say that they mean nothing without his teammates. The Vezina is nice, but there is a larger trophy that he wants to get his name on again during the middle of June.