Tuukka Rask brings past into present

One could make an argument that Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask should've been a Calder Trophy nominee for NHL rookie of the year last season.

The 23-year old seized the No. 1 goaltending spot from incumbent and 2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas en route to a brilliant rookie campaign in which he went 22-12-5 and led the NHL in goals against average (1.97) and save-percentage (.931). He also carried his team to within one game of the conference finals in the playoffs, going 7-6 with a 2.61 GAA and .912 save-percentage while becoming only the second Bruins goalie (Thomas was the other) since 1999 to win a playoff round, when the Bruins upset the Buffalo Sabres in six games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

But for Rask, such accolades are not the most important things he will take from last season. Instead he still has a bitter taste in his mouth left from the Bruins' monumental collapse in the conference semifinals, when they blew a 3-0 series lead and 3-0 lead in Game 7 en route to a 4-3 series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

For Rask, the loss was the perfect reason to get out of Dodge as soon as possible and head back to his native Finland, where he let it sink in and then began to analyze the experience and learn from it.

"I just wanted to get away from Boston for a while," Rask told ESPNBoston.com recently. "I love the city but I spent so much time here. You miss home, too, so I figured out the best thing was to go home for a couple of months and reload your batteries and see friends and family and get ready for the upcoming season."

That's exactly what Rask did. And when he was ready, he looked back on his 2009-10 season for which he had plenty to be proud.
But what he accomplished of course, wasn't what came to mind. Instead it was the Bruins' unceremonious exit at the hands of an upstart Flyers team. But when Rask takes himself back to that series, he doesn't necessarily become overcome with regret or what-ifs.

"Obviously, it's tough to end your season with four losses like that," he said. "You don't really feel bad for anybody because it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It's only hockey, and you can be mad and sad about what happened but you can't think about it too much. You just need to be ready if that situation ever comes again. You need to be more prepared, and once you've been there, you never want to go back.

"I think that will help us as a team to be ready for the season and the playoffs."

As far as preparation goes, Rask acknowledged that he could've been better prepared for the rigors of the playoffs, both mentally and physically.

"It is a different season when the playoffs start," Rask said. "You cannot prepare yourself too good for that.

"Everybody talks about it, but you need to experience it to be ready. Being a first-time playoff experience for me, it was fun but the next time it happens, I need to be more focused and in better shape and really pay attention to the nutrition side and get a lot of rest. You need to be able to perform at the best level you can because you play hockey and think about hockey all the time. It is really exhausting, so you need to be in the best shape when that time comes."

For those reasons, Rask has devoted plenty of time to being ready for his next shot at the Stanley Cup.

"I've been working out a lot and trying to add on healthy weight," he said. "Hopefully next time when that situation comes, I'll be more ready for that and be more ready for the next steps."

Following the season, there were rumors and speculation that Thomas wanted to be traded because Rask is the apparent starter between the pipes. Thomas has since denied all the rumors, and Rask did as well, insisting the relationship between the two is fine and healthy for the team.

"It was fun; we had a good time and he was a great support for me all the time," Rask said of his relationship with Thomas after the veteran lost the starting job to him. "In the playoffs, you always want to put the best team out there, and we didn't have any conflicts of any kind. He gave me good tips because he's been there and been through those things. It was really good to work with a veteran guy like Timmy."

But while it may be Rask's job to lose to Thomas as the Bruins begin camp Sept. 17, he isn't about to think the situation is already etched in stone.

"I try to take things in the same mindset as I have in the past couple of years," Rask said. "You do not want to take anything for granted. You try to focus on being the best player you can and really fight for every puck. No one is given the job before camp starts. I think it's going to be a great competition for the starting job and I am really looking forward to that."

James Murphy has covered the Bruins and the NHL for the last eight seasons. He has written for NHL.com, NESN.com, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also authors a blog, Drop Puck Murphy.