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Rask is only human...

January 1, 2014, 11:31 PM ET [1 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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Fans in Boston have undoubtedly been spoiled when it comes to their crease.

Whether it’s been a Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez tandem in 2008-09, the Thomas and Tuukka Rask duo of 2009 to 2012, or even last year’s Rask and Anton Khudobin one-two punch, the Bruins’ goaltending has never been an issue. They even survived with emergency acquisitions of Alex Auld (‘07) and Marty Turco (‘12).

In a Claude Julien world with varying offensive potency since arriving to Boston in 2007, the depth of the B’s goaltending has been its undeniable backbone. Until now, apparently.

Over his last two games, the 26-year-old Tuukka Rask has allowed eight goals on 43 shots.

Exiting last Saturday’s appearance after allowing three goals on 12 shots (worth noting that the start was Rask for some reason starting on the second leg of a back-to-back), and allowing five goals on 31 shots last night, Rask hasn’t exactly had a blast in the crease, but isn’t calling it a slump either.

“Well I just had a shutout. Do you think it was my fault?” the Finnish goaltender asked after last night’s 5-3 loss when pressed about his recent struggles. “I didn’t blame myself for that [Ottawa game], I wasn’t even supposed to play that game. Totally forgot about that game and then tried to regroup today so I wouldn’t say I’m in a slump. You think so? Sure.”

There’s no doubt that Rask’s had a rough two-game stretch, but like Rask alluded to, he’s been strong (and maybe that’s even putting it lightly) prior to the past two outings. Before dropping two straight, Rask rattled off four wins in a row, and posted a .976 save percentage and surrendered just three goals over that stretch.

As a whole, he’s won the third most games in the league this season (20), has the sixth best save percentage (.932) and boasts the eighth best goals against average (1.99).

For Boston, he’s been worth every penny of his seven million dollar cap-hit.

And you’d be stupid to try and dispute it.

“All I know is that he’s been a real great goaltender for us,” Julien said last night, refusing to nitpick Rask’s game. “Players sometimes have good games, they have so-so games, and I’m certainly not going to throw him under the bus with everything he’s done for us so I’ll leave it at that.”

But in a year where Rask has certainly put himself in heavy consideration for the Vezina Trophy, there’s one issue, and it’s his games played.

Through 40 games this year, Rask sits fourth in the NHL with games played this season at 32. Only Mike Smith, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Antti Niemi have played more than Rask in 2013-14. There’s nothing that says that the youthful netminder can’t handle such a workload, but it’s probably not ideal either.

No matter who you are, that’s a lot of minutes in the cage. And it may be beginning to show.

Rask finished October with a lethal .940 save percentage. He then finished November with a .929 save percentage. And then a soft December came and went with Rask posting a .927 save percentage. Sensing a slightly concerning trend here? It’s a slight dip, but a dip nevertheless, and that’s something that’s gotta be on the mind of the B’s, even if Rask’s numbers are still that of an elite goaltender.

Throughout the Julien era, no Bruins goaltender has played more than Thomas’ 59-game year in 2011-12. And that’s by design. The Black-and-Gold’s system -- whether there’s a clear cut No. 1 or not -- has always been about keeping players fresh and healthy enough to put together a deep playoff run. Goaltenders included. And in Timmy’s 59-game year, they were ousted by the Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round.

Not what they wanted then, and not what they want in 2013-14.

But with Rask paced to start 66 games this year, an early exit doesn’t seem outlandish.

See, Rask’s workload has been similar to that of the Oregon Trail’s ‘grueling’ pace option. At this rate, the B’s are set to run Rask into the ground a la Henrik Lundqvist with New York and Miikka Kiprusoff (Hey, remember that guy?) during his Calgary days by the second round if not earlier. It’s simply not reasonable to expect a netminder to play at this level for this long.

Especially if Rask’s going to make a serious push as Team Finland’s start in Sochi.

You’re obviously not going to take the blue away from Rask, but you do have to lessen his burden, and that begins with establishing trust in your backup goaltender Chad Johnson. Since Dec. 14, the 27-year-old has played just 114 minutes in net. He’s been given one start over that stretch (against the conference-worst Buffalo Sabres), and he’s clearly not trusted against any real challenge.

That’s going to be an issue. If it’s not one already.

The Bruins already called Niklas Svedberg up once this year, and while a slew of injuries prevented the Swedish import for getting in net for an NHL contest, there’s potential within his game that needs to be shown on a big league rink. But if Johnson or Svedberg can’t provide the safety net that the B’s need to keep Rask at 100 percent (or close to it), it may be time to explore their options elsewhere.

Just a thought, 'cause as we're learning, Rask's no cyborg.

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