Tuukka Rask has struggled at times to start 2014-15, but the Vezina-winning veteran has matured. He keeps his cool more than he used to.
Tuukka Rask has been one of hockey’s most interesting personalities as long as he’s been around. Originally, it was because he slapped the Scandinavian stereotype in the face.
When Rask broke into the North American pros, especially during his American League days, he was nothing like what we’d come to expect from Finns, or Swedes for that matter: calm, stoic, humble, quiet, lacking for words. The man was fiery. He got pissed off, often to a fault, when things didn’t go his way. Who could forget this post-shootout tantrum in 2009 with Providence?
It continued into his NHL career, even after he established himself as one of the league’s top goalies. This stick-break attempt came less than a year ago, and was one of many from Rask:
But Tuesday night in Toronto painted a very different picture. In theory, it shouldn’t have. Rask had one of the worst games of his career, lit up for four of Toronto’s six goals, including three in just more than three minutes to start the second period. Given the temperament we’d come to expect from him, he had good cause to freak out after Bruins bench boss Claude Julien pulled him, even if Rask was mad at himself and not his coach. But Rask took it in stride.
After a game like this, you wouldn’t fault Rask for not talking to the media. Instead, he calmly strode out, standing tall in a stylish grey suit, ready to discuss a nightmarish 6-1 defeat to a division rival. Maybe 209 games of NHL experience and a Vezina Trophy have finally calmed down Rask, a veteran now at 27.
“Yeah I guess so,” Rask said. “There’s nothing you can do about it anymore. You get scored on, you get pulled and it’s over with. But you’ve still got to learn from those mistakes and get better.”
Rask voluntarily shouldered a lot of Tuesday’s defeat, too. He said he took a lot of blame for giving up three goals in three minutes. And he he even beat himself up over Phil Kessel’s two tallies, both of which came on absolute laser wrist shots.
“You know what? Kessel’s a great shooter, a great goal scorer, but when guys start taking direct shots, and they go by me like that, I’d like to have those back, obviously,” Rask said. “But it happens sometimes. That’s hockey. It wasn’t my best night tonight. It wasn’t our team’s best night tonight. We just have to live with that and move on.”
Note that Rask went out of his way to throw himself, not his defense corps, under the bus, despite the fact they hung him out to dry on more than a few plays. Trading Johnny Boychuk and losing Zdeno Chara to injury has opened the door for promising young Boston blueliners Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug to play valuable minutes and gain experience, but it’s clear this team misses its veterans. Hamilton and Krug have blindingly bright futures, but they can still look overmatched on certain nights. Tuesday was one of them. Tyler Bozak breezed past Hamilton on the fourth goal, which chased Rask from the game. Yet, still, despite wishing he had Chara in front of him – who wouldn’t? – this surprisingly tranquil version of Rask was as forgiving as a new parent.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is – you still have to play the game, play the system and do the things that make you successful,” Rask said. “And sometimes, when you’re a young player and things aren’t going your way, you get away from your game. And Z’s good at (not doing that). He always keeps doing the same things and keeps everybody calm. So maybe on a night like tonight, we missed him.”
Rask’s start to 2014-15 includes a 2.69 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. There’s nothing Vezina-like about those numbers. Given how short his memory seems to be nowadays, however, it would be a shock if he didn’t bounce back in no time.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin