BOSTON -- Earlier in his career, Tuukka Rask was a more mercurial goalie.
The Boston Bruins' netminder wore his emotions on his sleeve. He would speak his mind when he wasn't happy with his teammates. He was known to occasionally smash his stick into oblivion, and once he even tossed a milk crate full of pucks onto the ice in a fit of rage after losing a game in the minors.
Rask, now 30, has learned to rein in those emotions.
In the process, he has reached the Stanley Cup finals, in 2013 -- but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. He has won a Vezina Trophy and an Olympic bronze medal with Finland, landed an eight-year contract that will pay him $56 million through the 2020-21 season and become a father.
Now Rask will lead the Bruins into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons when Boston faces the Ottawa Senators in the first round, beginning Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. The Bruins' No. 1 goalie's consistent performances this season were the key reason behind their return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
Rask played more games (69) than he should have during the regular season, leading some observers to wonder whether he has enough left in the tank for the playoff push. He has played more than 200 games during the past three seasons, including the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey. But if others are worried about his stamina, Rask himself is unconcerned. He says he's healthy and ready to go.
Rask had a career-high 37 victories and eight shutouts in 2016-17, including a 4-0-1 record and .971 save percentage in his final six games of the regular season.
And he has learned to control the intensity that occasionally bubbled over in years past.
"Tuukka has found consistency, which has correlated into the consistency night in and night out," one Western Conference goalie coach said. "Early in his career he was a little over-aggressive and showed his emotions a little too much. He is much calmer positionally and mentally now as he's matured."
Rask was Boston's backup behind Tim Thomas when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Rask eventually won the starting job and helped the Bruins return to the finals during the 48-game, lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but he couldn't beat the powerhouse Blackhawks. The following season, Boston lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round and, until now, couldn't claw its way back to the playoffs.
"You want to be in every year because it's the best time of your season," Rask said. "The weather gets nice and the atmosphere in the city and in the rinks is different, so you miss it a lot. But I'm glad we're in now."
Rask understands he'll need to be a difference-maker in this series and beyond for the Bruins -- who will start the series without two top defensemen -- to get past the Senators. Torey Krug (lower body) and Brandon Carlo (upper body) have both been ruled out for Game 1. Carlo is likely to return before Krug. The Bruins signed 19-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy to a three-year, entry-level deal on Monday. He'll make his NHL debut in this series and will likely be paired with captain Zdeno Chara.
"You maybe steal a game here and there and play great hockey when your team's not at 100 percent," Rask said. "You might make an extra save or two and give your team a chance, but at the end of the day it's the same thing as any other regular-season game. You have to give your team a chance to win."
Having a depleted blue line in front of him doesn't faze the veteran.
"It doesn't change anything on my end," Rask said. "We have some young talent on defense and offense, so it's good to see these guys getting a chance to play."
After a season-high four-game losing skid in early March, Rask finished strong, with two shutouts in the final three regular-season games.
"Tuukka just has to be Tuukka and [do] what he's done lately -- and, generally, for most of the year," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He's been real solid for us. I don't think there's a magic formula for him. We'll let him see pucks, and we have to do what we can to make sure we limit their second chances and box out. [Ottawa] is pretty good at getting to the net and has had success against us doing that, so [Rask] will then do his thing."
Rask has been a workhorse the past few seasons, playing more than the Bruins would have liked because they struggled to find a reliable backup.
"He's played a lot of games and he's been tremendous all year," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "The way he's battled lately, to propel us to the postseason, with the shutouts, it's been amazing to watch. It's been a real confidence booster, having him behind us."
Like Rask, Washington Capitals goalie and reigning Vezina winner Braden Holtby has played more than 200 games the past three seasons, including a league-leading 73 during the 2014-15 season. He says that some goalies relish the challenge of single-handedly shouldering their teams.
"Some guys like playing more and play better when they play more, so maybe [Rask's] one of those guys," Holtby said. "He's been one of the best goalies in the league for a long time. He's always fun to watch and fun to play against. You know you're not going to get any easy goals on him. Just look at his numbers and his consistency."
Rask was proud to be part of a Stanley Cup-winning team in 2011. But he was primarily a bystander during that Bruins run. He came agonizingly close to winning one as a starter in 2013 but came up just short. He wants to nothing more than to hoist that Cup over his head as a No. 1 goalie who helped his team reach hockey's pinnacle.
He will need to be the best goalie in the world for the next two months in order for that to happen.