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Tuukka Rask helping Boston Bruins emerge in crowded East

(Photograph by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

Numerous high-end NHL forwards struggled early this season, ranging from Sidney Crosby to Jakub Voracek to Ryan Getzlaf. Goaltenders weren’t immune to slow starts either. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins comes to mind, as the goalie lost his first three contests while allowing 14 goals against.

He would win his first game of the year on October 17, but Rask didn’t find his groove until recently. After dropping four of his first six starts in November — and giving up five goals in two of those losses — the 28-year-old has started to find his game over the last few weeks. It’s no mistake that Boston’s current 6-2-2 run has coincided with Rask’s ascension.

The Bruins are (somewhat surprisingly) sitting in a Wild Card spot as of December 8. This is a team that was supposed to be struggling through a rebuild-on-the-fly, but Rask’s play as of late has helped keep the Bruins in contention. Here’s a look at the netminder’s last six outings.

Date/Game Goals Against Shots Faced Saves Made Save % 5-on-5 Goals Allowed Outcome
12/5 @ VAN 0 17 17 1.000 0 W
12/4 @CGY 2 26 24 .923 2 O
12/2 @EDM 2 36 34 .944 1 O
11/27 vs NYR 3 27 24 .889 2 W
11/23 @ TOR 3 42 39 .929 3 W
11/21 vs TOR 0 22 22 1.000 0 W

That’s a run of six consecutive games in which Rask has helped Boston secure at least a point. It’s this level of play that the Bruins need from their netminder if they want to continue to contend in the tough Atlantic Division — a Division that figures to get even stronger as the year goes on.

Both the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils have been better than expected, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are better than their 13-12-3 record indicates. They’ll eventually get back to playing quality puck, and the Detroit Red Wings haven’t slowed down with Mike Babcock bailing to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the Atlantic shaping up the way it is, this small six-game snapshot won’t be enough for Rask and the Bruins. The Tampere, Finland native will need to continue to post quality starts to keep Boston in the playoff hunt. Until recently, that is something that Rask had struggled to do.

Seventy-two netminders have started at least one NHL game so far this season, ranging from Sergei Bobrovsky’s league-leading 24 games played down to seven goalies who have only played in a single contest. Rask is 18th in games played with 19, but only has eight quality starts to his name. That’s a quality start percentage of .471, and the company that puts the goalie in isn’t great.

Rask has the 42nd best quality start percentage in the NHL, putting him in the same territory as Chad Johnson and Ondrej Pavelec. Johnson has started 18 games for the Buffalo Sabres while Pavelec has received the nod 15 times in Winnipeg. As it stands now, neither the Sabres or Jets are playoff teams.

Reading between the lines a bit, we can safely come to a few conclusions.

When comparing Rask’s level of play to other goalies, we can see that the Bruins are somewhat fortunate to be in a postseason spot. Goalies that have quality start numbers similar to Rask haven’t typically led their teams up the standings. There are two exceptions here: Devan Dubnyk (.455 QS% with the Minnesota Wild) and Ryan Miller (.435 QS% with the Vancouver Canucks).

Both of those netminders are solid, but they aren’t considered elite like Rask is. Dubnyk was incredible after arriving in Minnesota last year, but he has come down to Earth a bit. Miller was a pleasant surprise in October, but his season is trending in the wrong direction now. This is to say that these two aren’t neighbours that Rask should be looking to keep all year.

Ryan Miller was great in October but he's leveled out over the last few weeks.

Ryan Miller was great in October but he’s leveled out over the last few weeks.

It’d be impossible for the Bruins to lean on Rask more than they did a year ago. He appeared in a whopping 70 games, going 34-21-13 along the way. The big difference between this season and last has been the goalie’s level of play. Only two netminders cranked out more than Rask’s 42 quality starts from 2014-15.

He carried a .627 quality start percentage and the Bruins still missed the postseason by two points. Rask needs to get back to that level of play for Boston to emerge from the pack in the Eastern Conference, and he has done just that over the last few weeks.

 

Stats appear courtesy of hockey-reference.com and NHL.com and are accurate through games played on December 7.

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