First off let’s congratulate Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask for nabbing the NHL’s No. 1 Star for the month of December.
He’s turned things around after struggling over most of the first two months of the season, and both Rask and the Bruins have been consistently good since he was benched for four consecutive games in the middle of November. It would be a stretch to say that Rask has stolen games for the Bruins since coming back, or that he’s gone to some superhuman level of play between the pipes not seen around here since Tim Thomas on his way to a Stanley Cup in 2011.
But Rask posted a 9-0-1 record in the month of December, posted a .955 save percentage and led all goalies with a 1.22 goals against average during the last month of 2017. That is mistake-free goaltending behind a Bruins team that is finally playing at a high level in front of him, blocking shots and keeping everything to the outside like they do when things are going well for the Black and Gold.
“We just always felt Tuukka was our guy,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who had benched Rask for four straight games to spark his goalie and his hockey club. “It was just something we decided to do at the time, and I think it’s worked out well for both goaltenders. Tuukka has clearly benefited from being pushed because he’s dead-on [right now].”
That’s exactly what they need out of Rask with a young hockey club that’s still going to have some rookie breakdowns along the way. It’s exactly what they’ll need consistently out of Rask in the playoffs if they’re going to make any noise at all.
But let’s just put a caution flag on the gloating and “I told you so’s” from the Tuukka Rask apologist crew out there. They were out in full force on twitter on Tuesday as Rask was crowned as the No. 1 Star of the month in a nice little midseason acknowledgement of his recent efforts.
🔥🔥🔥 Rask haters go silent https://t.co/B4Qa7nrs6I— Matt (@Tnags156) January 2, 2018
No controversy then?— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) January 2, 2018
Let’s not forget that Rask been dominant for a month here or two months there before, and that the Bruins as a team have been extremely good in front of him with one of the best top lines in the NHL (that hasn’t been scored on yet in even strength), an emerging rookie of the year candidate on the back end in Charlie McAvoy and a team overall that’s seeing their lines and pairings real gel together over the last six weeks.
If Rask is the NHL’s No. 1 Star in April, May and June like Thomas was in 2011 then the pro-Rask mob will have something to annoyingly crow about. It will be a Tuukkapalooza love-fest at that point, and rightfully so.
That is his proving ground at this point having not won a playoff series since 2014, and having faltered at points late in the season over the last couple of years once the workload caught up to him, and once the stakes became truly pressurized.
This humble hockey writer still believes that the Bruins aren’t going to win a Cup with Rask as their main guy between the pipes, and winning the NHL’s Player of the Month in December really shouldn’t change many opinions. It looks like the Bruins are for real this season and Rask is going to get his chance to see what he can do to carry the B’s once things gnarly in the postseason.
That’s when Rask will get his chance to truly change perceptions and reclaim his standing as one of the top elite NHL goalies worthy of a $7 million annual salary. The NHL’s No. Star is merely confirmation that Rask has resoundingly reclaimed his game for this season, and that the Bruins are getting the goaltending they’re relying on him to provide on a nightly basis.
That’s a good thing, but it’s also exactly what he’s chewing up a big chunk of the B’s salary cap to go out and do.