Tuukka Rask's Vezina Nomination a "No Brainer"
BOSTON, MA - Not much fazes Tuukka Rask.
"For me, I always try to be the last guy on the defense and give us a chance to win," the netminder said casually on Friday from TD Garden, after he was announced as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
He and his teammates were in the midst of preparing for Saturday's Game 5, with an opportunity to close out their first round series against Detroit.
When the nominations were announced on Friday, no one was surprised that Rask was in the mix. He's joined by Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop and Colorado's Semyon Varlamov.
"It’s a great honor to be nominated, obviously," said Rask. "It’s great recognition, but everybody knows were a team-first team and it’s something that comes after the biggest trophy."
"It’s something that comes after the Stanley Cup. That’s your main goal. If you get nominated, it’s great. If not, then it doesn’t matter. But I feel honored to be nominated."
"And happy to go to Vegas for the first time in my life," he added with a smile.
Technically, 2013-14 marked Rask's first full 82-game season as "the guy" in Boston. He established career bests with 58 games played, a League-leading seven shutouts, and 36 wins. His 2.04 goals-against average ranked fourth in the NHL and his .930 save percentage was second to only Minnesota's Josh Harding (.933 in 29 games).
Rask allowed two or fewer goals in 28 or his 58 appearances.
"To me, it’s a no brainer, he’s had such a good year," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "He has been so good for us and he has had an unbelievable season. He did well at the Olympics for his team, too, but this is based on the NHL. I just think he has had a great year and we would be really disappointed had he not been one of the three nominees."
After the 2012-13 season (Rask's first as the starter in Boston), he didn't get the nod for the Vezina nomination. Julien and Rask's teammates all knew his worth to their team, and labeled him as a Vezina winner in their minds, regardless.
"I guess it’s something — you just try to be as good as people think you are and you think you are," said Rask. "So I accomplished that in the regular season and there’s still a lot to prove in the playoffs."
Like Patrice Bergeron, Rask's play in the Olympics opened eyes on an international level, as he led Finland to the bronze medal.
The solid performance was to be expected by those who have watched the goaltender game in and game out, and have seen him develop in Black & Gold. He has never lacked confidence, at any level.
"I think it was a confidence booster, for sure, getting a medal and playing good hockey there helped a lot," said Rask, of the Olympic experience over in Sochi. "It’s not so much the physical rest, obviously, but it’s a change of scenery, and then when you play that good there, you kind of feel like you want to keep that going."
"I guess for myself and for the other guys, too, it was really a confidence booster, and I just tried to hold on to that feeling and play good."
Because the netminder has confidence, so does the team in front of him. And vice versa.
"Just knowing that if you do your job correctly and give up the right shots, then he's going to save them," said defenseman Matt Bartkowski, of how Rask makes his job easier.
"Well, he makes everybody's job easier," said Johnny Boychuk. "When you have confidence in your goalie, it gives you confidence to play the way you should, and it's not a surprise that he's nominated for that award."
The effect is reciprocal. The Bruins preach a defense-first system, with Rask as the last line of defense, but the back end and forwards provide stingy layers of support.
"It’s great. You don’t get these nominations or wins for those trophies without your teammates, obviously, and if you look at our team, our defense is great," said Rask. "And we have such good depth on offense and guys score a lot of goals, but they still take pride in their defensive game, too. So from a goalie standpoint, that’s a huge help."
"He means so much to this team," said Reilly Smith, who had only seen Rask from afar until this season.
"He's a rock back there, he's so steady every night. I think sometimes we might take it for granted a little too much, and if we give up an odd-man rush or something, sometimes we don't backcheck as much as we should, just because we know Tuukka's that good, he's going to make the save."
Occasionally, you'll see a Bruin back off and allow Rask to face the shot. If he sees it, he'll save it.
"You can't say enough about how good of a goalie he is, just being a member and leader on this team," said Smith. "It's well deserved, for sure."
At just 27 years old, Rask has already become a key member of the Bruins' core, along with Selke finalist Bergeron and likely Norris finalist Zdeno Chara.
"He's surely a talented goaltender and not only talented, he's worked hard," said Gregory Campbell. "I've seen him develop a little bit since I've been here and he's very deserving of that nomination. He's a huge part of our team, he's a huge part of this organization's success, so myself and all of my teammates are very thrilled for him."
"He works hard, he works hard at his game," Campbell went on.
"You know, I don't know much about goaltending, I just know that he's a hard worker - and I can't score on him [in practice]," he laughed.
Not many can.
Through his eight years with the Bruins' organization, Rask has kept building confidence, gaining experience, and remaining the same un-phased netminder.
He's always known he can succeed at this level. It was just a matter of putting in the work.
"I guess I felt that all along," said Rask, when asked to pinpoint a time that he knew he could carve himself an NHL role. "But when you play more, and you get consecutive starts, and you kind of feel like you’ve proved yourself in the league, and you feel that you can play a lot of games in a row at a good level, then you just try to build on that and keep working hard."
"But I’ve always felt like as long as I get my chances, I’ll be able to play. So then it’s not so much 'to get there,' but then the toughest part of things is just to maintain that level and stay at the top."