Clamor on Causeway: Tuukka Keeps Bruins Window Open

Bruce Bennett

An annoying fallacy hockey fans accept as gospel is the idea of the big save. Goals decide hockey games, obviously, and allowing a decisive goal, no matter its origin, dooms goaltenders.

Thursday night, Tuukka Rask allowed one goal in a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche -- the second coming with Rask pulled for an extra attacker. The marker came when a harmless attempt from Andre Benoit pinballed through the throng stationed in the slot and fluttered past Rask. A tough goal, no doubt, but a goal all the same. Rask was otherwise brilliant in the game, as he has been in his brief time as the Bruins' starting goaltender.

On the opposite end, Colorado's Jean-Sebastien Giguere was great, stopping 39 shots and leaving Boston with a shutout. So, the narrative goes that Giguere simply outplayed Rask. It's fair to an extent, but Rask's performance was hardly the reason for the defeat. Early in the game, he made the type of saves lazy pundits point to as "big saves." Those same windbags look at the goal Colorado managed and conclude that Rask wasn't good enough on Thursday night; as if allowing one goal on 30 shots isn't the type of performance any goaltender in the league would kill for.

Rask's problem on Thursday had little to do with himself. His teammates need to score more goals, and they will. It's not exactly uncommon for a Bruins team to dominate possession and pile up the shots and chances without scoring goals. This issue has been their one true problem in these last few otherwise glorious years.

After last June's defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals, many wondered openly if the Bruins' window to compete for championships was over. Zdeno Chara's getting old, really the whole defensive corps is, and the club's management team made some interesting moves over the summer that may have made the team worse.

One move they made was signing Rask to an eight-year contract extension. He will, most likely, be the Bruins' goaltender for the rest of his prime and probably beyond that. It's never guaranteed that a player will remain healthy or a goaltender will maintain his play over any extended time period, nevermind eight years. If anyone can do it, though, it's Rask.

He's only been the No. 1 starter in Boston for 10 months, but he's been arguably the best goaltender in the world in that time. He keeps getting better as well. Three games is an absurdly small sample size, but he's allowed exactly three goals in that time. The odd four- or five-goal game is inevitable. However, as history shows us, those calamities are rarely the fault of the guy in goal.

Last season, Rask started 36 of 48 regular-season games. He ended the year with a 2.00 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts. In 22 playoff starts, he put up similarly dominant numbers with a 1.88 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. Going even further, his even-strength save percentage in last year's regular season was .938 and rose to .945 in the playoffs.

These numbers aren't particularly common. Then, Rask's talent isn't either.

Thursday night, Rask lost to an inferior goaltender, and the Bruins lost to an inferior team. Hockey happens sometimes. In the final half of the game, the Bruins were plainly better than the Avalanche, but they couldn't find a goal. Those games are always going to be a problem for the Bruins. But, it's not like those same issues didn't harm them last year or the year before or when they won the Stanley Cup.

The common decree of Bruins' fans and starry-eyed reporters is that the Bruins win because they're tough and they're big and they're mean. This puts a lot of stock in concepts and conjecture that can't possibly be quantified. The Bruins have and will compete for championships for the foreseeable future because of goaltending and otherwise phenomenal defensive play.

The contract Rask signed last summer didn't worry people because he isn't a good goalie. It was questionable solely based on the track records of other NHL goalies. It's a difficult position to play, and so much of a netminder's success is predicated upon skaters doing their jobs. Also, there's luck. Like there was on Thursday. The Bruins were a bit unlucky in their defeat. It wasn't the sole reason they lost -- it took some time to account for Colorado's speed -- but they did more than enough to get one by Giguere. Based on the start they had, they could've been behind two or three goals before they found their stride.

They weren't, though. They were down just one goal, and the reason for that was pretty clear. Rask was quietly brilliant on Thursday night, like he so often is. Those 17 seconds against Chicago last June closed the Bruins' window in the eyes of many. As much as some may not like the commitment the Bruins made to Rask over the summer, it's likely the reason that window never really closed at all.

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