Tuukka Rask stonewalled the Maple Leafs to get the Bruins a 2-1 series lead. (Getty Images)
Two years ago, Tuukka Rask watched Tim Thomas go out and win a Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins. And if Thomas hadn’t taken this season off to focus on “family, friends and faith,” and who knows what else, Rask would probably be at the end of the Bruins bench again this spring.
Rask obviously does not have Thomas’s flair for the dramatic, either on or off the ice. There’s an economy to his game that makes his saves look a lot less dramatic the Thomas contortions, as was evidenced by his 45-save performance in stonewalling the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 3 of their first round playoff series.
And if you’re looking for a guy to snub the White House or publicly stand with the owners of Chick-fil-A against same-sex marriage, or for that matter do or say anything controversial, you’re after the wrong guy in Rask. For example, he could look at every game against the Maple Leafs as an opportunity to show up the organization that dumped him in favor of Canadian world junior hero Justin Pogge, but that’s not his style.
You find that out when you ask him whether even a tiny part of him wants to stick it down the Leafs throats and tell them they made a mistake by not sticking with him.
“I know what you want me to say,” Rask said, “but I have no emotional ties to this organization. I never played here, but I played my first NHL game here. I’ve always liked playing here, but there’s nothing like, ‘I want to show them and I want to beat these guys,’ or something like that.”
It’s funny. People never tire of giving the Leafs and former GM Brian Burke grief over the Phil Kessel trade that delivered Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton to the Bruins. But in the short-term, the organization’s decision to go with Pogge over Rask might even be a worse one. To this point it certainly has and in this series, it has, since Seguin has yet to register a point and Hamilton has been a healthy scratch in two of the three games.
The reason that Rask ended up beating the Maple Leafs in Game 3 and not playing for them can be traced back to the draft in 2006, one year after the Leafs took Rask 21st overall. Rask and Pogge, who had been taken 90th overall in 2004, both played in the 2006 WJC in Vancouver, with Pogge winning the gold medal and Rask winning the bronze and being named the top goaltender in the tournament.
The Leafs had both goalies in their fold but Rask made it clear to the Leafs, through his agent Bill Zito, that he would not sign with the Leafs unless they were serious about giving him a chance to be their goaltender of the future. The Leafs had already signed Pogge to a contract and forced to make a choice between the two, took the path of less resistance with the Canadian world junior hero. The only problem was, Pogge may have had three shutouts in that tournament, but he was playing behind the best defensive Canadian team of all-time and perhaps the best shutdown tandem of all-time in Marc Staal and Ryan Parent. Rask, on the other hand, faced almost 100 more shots than Pogge did in the tournament and got his team on the podium.
So when the Leafs needed a goaltender to replace Hall of Famer Ed Belfour, they allowed public pressure to guide them, knowing they’d be opening themselves up to a world of criticism if they traded Pogge. So they dealt Rask in exchange for Andrew Raycroft and promptly took about six more years to get their goaltending situation straightened out. (That is, of course, going on the assumption that it is straightened out with the tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.)
You could say that Rask left the Leafs no choice. But you could also say that these are the kinds of decisions that alter the course of franchises. Much of the hockey world thought Rask was actually a better goalie than Pogge and they turned out to be right. To be sure, those who chose the award for best goalie in the 2006 WJC thought that. Hockey men are paid to make those difficult, and sometimes unpopular decisions, and we can all probably agree that the Leafs blew that one.
And they didn’t need Tuukka Rask coming in and stoning them in a playoff game to realize that. The Bruins, on the other hand, continue on with Rask standing tall for them. To be sure, if they play too often in the playoffs the way they did in the third period of Game 3, in which they were outshot 18-6, they’re going to be needing him to do it a few more times this spring.
ONE-ON-ONE WITH TUUKKA RASK
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.