An Ode to Tuukka

After 15 seasons with the Boston Bruins, the franchise’s winningest goaltender has retired. After battling a hip-injury all last season that required surgery, Tuukka Rask was sidelined to start the year. In January Rask began down the path of a comeback, but after just 4 games in net for the Bruins, the triumphant return of the Vezina trophy winner was called off. The writing was on the wall and it was time for the 34-year old to hang up his skates and officially retire from hockey. Two Us, two Ks, and two thumbs up for an amazing career for Rask.

After being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs as the 21st pick in the 2005 draft, Tuukka was traded just under a year later in what is considered one of the worst trades in Maple Leafs franchise history. They traded G Andrew Raycroft for Rask thinking that they had another young goalie for the future, Justin Pogge, waiting in the minors. For those of you scrambling to look it up, yes, Pogge did make the NHL and play for the Leafs, but for a grand total of 7 games and had a 4.36 goals-against average. If the Leafs hadn’t traded Rask, who knows where we would be today. We assuredly would not be talking about Rask’s 104 postseason games played in a Bruins uniform.

The Leafs loss was the Bruins gain and Rask made his NHL debut in 2008. He wouldn’t get significant playing time for a few seasons however, because the Bruins had some guy named Tim Thomas in net. Ironically, Rask got his first significant playing time in 2010 when Thomas was dealing with a hip injury and began to show the team what he is capable of, finishing in the top tier of all the goalie awards and getting some recognition. Thomas and Rask was a formidable goalie tandem and brought the Stanley Cup home to Boston in 2011, although it was still clearly the Thomas-show as he dominated in the postseason allowing less than 2 goals per game and having a save percentage of .940. After protesting a visit to the White House to honor the championship, Thomas’ fan opinion began to slip and it was the beginning of the end for his time with the Bruins. The slip would eventually open the door for Rask to take control of the goaltending duties.

One year later, in February of 2013, Thomas was traded to the New York Islanders and the Rask era in Boston officially began. With Rask as the #1, the Bruins made a run at the Stanley Cup, beating the Maple Leafs in 7, then the Rangers in 5, then sweeping the Penguins. They ultimately couldn’t beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup, losing in 6 games. Rask was electric and allowed just 1.88 goals per game and had a career high .940 save percentage in 22 postseason games that season. The numbers mirrored Thomas’ Stanley Cup run and get the fanbase excited for the future. Despite being the runner-up, Rask had cemented his status as the #1 and proved that he could perform in the postseason.

In his first full season as the #1 goalie, Rask was an All-Star, won the Vezina trophy as the best goaltender in the league, and pushed the Tim Thomas era into the distant past. The Bruins were the best team in hockey in the 2013-2014 season and Rask was excellent in net, but their bitter rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, handed the Bruins a demoralizing upset in 7 games in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Rask had a sub-2 goals against average in the postseason, but they couldn’t make another deep run. After that point, things were not as peachy for the Finnish goaltender. Rask played in a career-high 70 games in 2014-2015, but the Bruins missed out on the playoffs and a similar result after 64 games in net in 2015-2016, with a 2nd straight year without playoff hockey in Boston. Rask was still a very solid goaltender, but couldn’t quite reach the heights he had flashed in his first full season with the club, and struggled to repeat a sub-2 goals against average and above .930 save percentage.

Rask took the Bruins to the postseason for the next 5 straight seasons, but only sniffed the trophy once more in 2018-2019 when the Bruins lost to the St. Louis Blues in 7 games. That postseason was more of the vintage Rask we knew and loved, with a 2.02 goals against average and a .934 save percentage in his 24 games played (a career high in the postseason). Unfortunately, that would be Rask’s last real chance at a Stanley Cup. The 2019-2020 season saw the Bruins enter the playoffs in 1st place in the division, but with the COVID pandemic raging, the postseason was a completely different story. The Bruins were in the playoff bubble in Toronto and in the middle of dispatching the Carolina Hurricanes in 5 games when Rask opted out and left the team. He left the bubble to be with his family because of an emergency with his daughter. He unfortunately caught a lot of heat for the decision, but was doing what he felt was best for him and his family. The Bruins would go on to lose in 5 games to the Tampa Bay Lightening in the 2nd round and similar to the end of the Tim Thomas era, a segment of the fanbase began to sour on Rask.

In 2021, Rask was hampered by his hip injury all season, playing in just 24 regular season games and 11 postseason games. He wasn’t his old Rask-self and wasn’t nearly as effective in net in the regular or postseason and after a 5-game series win over the Washington Capitals, the Bruins once again fell in the 2nd round, this time in 6 games to the New York Islanders. After the season Rask would have hip surgery and after missing the first several months of the 2021-2022 season, would fail in his comeback bid this year and officially retire. The end-of-career fizzle for Rask is a complicated one to process, especially for those who were upset that he left his team in the middle of the playoffs, but there is no doubt that Rask had a significant impact on the Boston Bruins and his numbers tell the story. Rask sits as the franchise leader for goalies in games played (564), wins (308), saves (14,345), and almost tied in save percentage with Tim Thomas (.921).

My hat goes off to one of the more enjoyable goalies to watch over the last 10+ seasons. Rask kept the Bruins relevant in almost every season as the starting goaltender and had some amazing postseason performances. It’s a shame he didn’t win a Stanley Cup as a starting goalie, but that doesn’t take away from Rask’s legacy with the Bruins. He will forever be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, Boston Bruins goaltenders of all time. Kippis Tuukka!

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