Immediately after Saturday night's game, Liam McHugh asked on the broadcast, "Do the Penguins think about playing Fleury?" Keith Jones said yes. In Boston, we don't have these discussions, because success starts in the net, and any success the Bruins have had has included outstanding goaltending.
If Tuukka has a rough night (banana peel goal), he has to be able to shrug it off and bounce back even better, rather than be pulled and see if Khudobin can wing it better. Without the utmost faith in goaltending, we're nothing. I'll be the first to admit I didn't realize Tuukka was capable of that kind of mental strength, and I am impressed as hell that he has developed that necessary attitude. To paraphrase Matt Bartkowski (I think, maybe it was Torey Krug), it's calming to have someone as calm as Tuukka back there. It's kind of surreal.
Every now and then Tuukka flips out, and even a few months ago he was pulling the shenanigans of falling over himself from trying to break his stick on the boards. Typical Tuukka. But the yelling at his defenseman, or showing any real anger or being rattled at anything, has dissipated through the playoffs...even down 4-1 to Toronto. We should appreciate how well he is playing.
Let's take a walk through the history of Tuukka Rask.
Tuukka Rask was born in Savonlinna, Finland, but grew up in Tampere. He played for his hometown’s Finish Junior League team, Ilves Tampere Jr., earning him recognition as one of the highest ranked goalies in the 2005 draft.
Toronto (OF COURSE IT WAS TORONTO) picked him 21st overall that year. He played a season in the Finnish elite league, still in his hometown, for Ilves Tampere. A year later, on June 4, 2006, he was traded to Boston in exchange for Andrew Raycroft. Solid trade. Tuukka spent another season playing for Ilves Tampere, through the 2006-07 seasons, before making the jump to North America.
By the time he made his debut in a Bruins uniform in the fall of 2007, Tuukka had already appeared in three World Junior Championships for Finland – 2005, 2006, and 2007. In 2006 as an 18 year old, his 4-2 record helped the team win a bronze medal and earned him a spot on the All-Tournament Team as well as top goaltender of the tournament honors.
When Tuukka joined the Bruins in 2007, he was assigned to Providence of the American Hockey League. He had signed a three year entry level contract in May of that year. He spent two seasons in the AHL, interrupted occasionally by call-ups to Boston. But before we look at his achievements in Boston from the very beginning, let’s look at what he did in the AHL.
In the 2007-08 season, as a rookie goaltender for the P-Bruins, Tuukka 27-13-2, placing him fifth in the AHL in wins. He had a .905 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, and one shutout. He was named as a starter to the AHL All-Star Team which, back then, was "Planet/USA" versus "Canada" rather than "West" versus "East". Tuukka was the starter for "Planet/USA" since I think we can deduce that Finland is somewhere on the Planet.
It’s worth noting that Milkwaukee Admirals goaltender and fellow Finn Pekka Rinne was also named an All-Star that year, but backed up Tuukka. In a weird coincidence, Canadian Michael Leighton of the Albany River Rats and future Philadelphia Flyer but permanent career AHLer, started for Team Canada. Also, American Jimmy Howard appeared in this All-Star Game but somehow the Canadians won even with Leighton in goal. The AHL rules but I digress.
In the 2007-08 Calder Cup playoffs, Tuukka led Providence to a first round sweep of the Manchester Monarchs in his first taste of North American professional playoff action. In the second round however, they lost a 4-2 series against the Portland Pirates. After going up 2-0 against the Pirates, they lost two straight overtime games before losing the next two games by a one-goal margin.
In 2008-09, Tuukka improved upon his AHL record with the second most wins in the league (33-20-4). The Calder Cup playoffs of that season, Providence beat Portland in the first round, 4-1, followed by a 4-2 victory over the Worcester Sharks in the second round. They then lost to Hershey in five games, because I hate you Hershey. This would be his final appearance in the AHL before dazzling us all in the NHL for good.
Tuukka actually made his first NHL appearance back in 2007, against the team that drafted and traded him: Toronto. In Toronto. It was a 4-2 victory on November 20, 2007. He won his second appearance that season as well, and ended up playing a total of four games in the 2007-08 NHL season with a 2-1-1 record. He clearly still needed work in the AHL, which is why he kept getting sent back down there.
In the 2008-09 season, he played on one NHL game, but it was his first career shutout – a 1-0 shutout against the New York Rangers on January 31, 2009. Pretty awesome and impressive. But he again finished the season in Providence.
Enter 2009-10. Tuukka Rask is remembered mostly for blowing the 3-0 series lead in the second round against the Flyers this season, but most people seem to conveniently forget that he was a rookie. He was barely a day over 23 years old. Okay, he was a few months over 23. But he was young, with baby fat still on his cheeks.
But he had come off of an amazing NHL rookie season of which he was robbed of a rookie of the year nomination. 22-12-5, .931, 1.97, those last two numbers equaling tops in the league. He had five shutouts. For a first round drafted goalie, expectations are certainly high for Tuukka as it is. And he took his time to develop well in the AHL, and made the jump to the NHL, and was awesome. And then enter the playoffs, where he was great. Up until the entire team collapsed in those last four games. Sure, there was room for improvement.
The amount of improvement that we’ve seen in Tuukka since that time has been unbelievable though. I can’t believe my eyes sometimes, especially this postseason. He’s grown up a lot, physically, mentally, awesomely (that is totally a word). The 2011 Cup run on the bench with Tim Thomas served him well. I think he absorbed all the knowledge he could from that, and that’s another reason I am thankful for what Tim Thomas did for us.
The clock hadn't quite struck Tuukka Time in 2010, or in the years before this. But the alarm is sounding, and it's Tuukka Time now.