BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask hasn't started a meaningful game since the 2010-11 regular-season finale on April 10. He made 29 saves in a 3-2 loss that day, capping off a regular season that didn't exactly go as planned for the young Finnish netminder.
After compiling a 22-12-5 record with a 1.97 GAA and .938 save percentage as a rookie in 2009-10, Rask struggled out of the gate last season, losing the opener in Prague and watching Tim Thomas move in to take his spot as starter and enjoy a historic season. But now after Thomas played 82 full games (including playoffs) last season, head coach Claude Julien made it clear throughout camp and once again Friday that he plans to use Rask more this season, and that could start very soon -- perhaps Saturday against Tampa Bay.
"I think I wanted to make that clear from the beginning and from the get-go that we need to utilize our goaltenders and make sure we utilize them properly," Julien said when asked if he would be starting Rask soon. "Tuukka has had a great camp and played two really good exhibition games and I think he needs to play. You'll see him in the lineup soon."
Rask himself said he hopes to see game action soon so he doesn't get rusty and lose the momentum of his two solid preseason performances.
"I hope so," Rask said. "I don't want to sit around too long. It's been over a week since I last played and a long time since I played in a real game. So you don't want to lose that momentum and sharpness."
Rask's effort to stay positive, keep himself sharp and in shape, and not let disappointment over losing the starter's job last season affect him impressed his teammates and Julien. They already knew he had the skills to play in this league, but Rask's professionalism has earned him extra admiration.
"It's one thing to put on a brave face but I think he legitimately wanted the best for the team," Ference said. "It's not like he pretended he was happy for everybody, he genuinely was, and it's not like you could pretend that long. And I think the tough thing for a goalie playing backup is that he doesn't have a lot of people to talk to. Nobody on the team except maybe the goalie coach and the other goalie understands that situation and what it's like to go through that for so long. You're on your own a lot. Obviously you're part of the team, but to a great extent you're on your own."
As Ference also pointed out, the healthy yet competitive relationship Rask and Thomas have helped as well.
"For goalies there's this ultra-competitive level," Ference said. "They're guys that during games or practice are and need to always compete and challenge to keep their jobs, and he does that. But if you have animosity or anything like that it can get ugly for them and for the team. You can have competitive nature and stuff like that -- that's the same for any position because you're always fighting for more ice time -- that's a healthy thing. But there's a line where it turns into animosity and it can tear a team apart. Like I said, you can't hide that for long. It comes to the surface and it gets ugly."
But it never got ugly between the Bruins goalies and that's largely because of Rask's team-first attitude.
"It was impressive in a way that I thought as far as being supportive of everything else and the situation, he was great," Julien said. "You just want to make sure that he continues to battle. Battle for some ice time, to play and not let the other guy get comfortable. That's what competition is all about. You want to be ready and you don't want to say, 'Hey you're playing so well I'm giving you the stage here. You want to be supportive when you're not playing but at the same time you want to battle for that time on the ice as well, and by doing that you're just keeping the other guy on his toes. That's the inner-competition that we talk about a lot. It doesn't just exist with the other forwards or the extra D, it has to exist with the extra goaltenders too."
Now that competition could get interesting again as Rask will have the opportunity to prove he can be the goalie he was in the 2010-11 season or even better with an increased workload on the horizon.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.