BOSTON – Make no mistake, the Bruins are already having their salary-cap gurus figure out how they are going to accommodate what should be a hefty raise for goalie Tuukka Rask.
After signing a one-year contract last year, he has made it abundantly clear he is their man between the pipes for the foreseeable future. Rask earned his second shutout of the Eastern Conference finals and of his playoff career, making 26 stops to help the Bruins earn their second trip to the Stanley Cup finals in three seasons.
For the series, Rask allowed just two goals and stopped 134 of 136 shots on net. How's that for elite?
"There's no question that the performance he put in in this series was elite," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Rask. "He was the difference in the series, there is no question. It's not like we didn't have good opportunities and good scoring chances. We had good looks at the net. We had good opportunities, even in Game 1, had 12 scoring chances in the first period. He was the difference in that game. We weren't able to get on the board, get in a lead at any time in the series. Again, Game 3's performance, he was a 50-plus A performance, outstanding, spectacular in a lot of his saves. Again tonight he was up to the task. No question about this being his best performance."
Rask is now 12-4 with a 1.75 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in the playoffs. Rask is in such a zone right now that he's even frustrating his teammates in practice, according to Bruins forward Brad Marchand.
"I don't even shoot on Tuuks in practice anymore," Marchand joked. "I always go to Dobby [backup goalie Anton Khudobin]. I don't even get a shot off on Tuuks. But no, he is so great. He takes away so much space and he's so quick. There's opportunities when you think they're going to have an open net and he comes out of nowhere. So he's definitely a frustrating guy to compete against in practice but a great guy to have on your team."
Two seasons ago Rask rode the bench as the backup to the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy and Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup that year. Following Game 4, head coach Claude Julien was asked about the zone Rask is in right now, and he credited Thomas' influence on Rask.
"Well, I think it's great," Julien said. "I mean, you know, Timmy did it for us for numerous years. To a certain extent you got to hope that Tuukka learned from that as well, seized the moment when he had the chance. Although they're different personalities, both have good personalities, don't get me wrong, but different personalities, I think a lot of Timmy's commitment and desire to be the best he could be every night has rubbed off on Tuukka. Tuukka has learned from that. Right now he's in a zone that you hope he can hold on to. Without that kind of goaltending, you don't get a chance at winning a Cup."
Rask was asked about entering the Stanley Cup finals as a starter now.
"That's what you dream about, right? Couldn't be better," he said.
Then again, it actually could get better. Rask's dream won't be complete unless he backstops the Bruins to their second Cup in three seasons and maybe even win the Conn Smythe as Thomas did.