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Vezina finalist Tuukka Rask glad he ‘wasn’t a disappointment,’ but still has more to prove

04.25.14 at 4:18 pm ET
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Last season, Tuukka Rask willingly played on a one-year deal. It was his first season as the full-time starter, and he was happy to go out and prove that he deserved a long-term deal.

Rask did that, and then he got that long-term deal, signing an eight-year, $56 million contract this past summer. In turn, that provided a different kind of motivation for this season (on top of the obvious motivation of winning a Stanley Cup). Now that he had the big contract and the long-term security, he needed to make sure he lived up to the heightened expectations.

After posting a league-leading .930 save percentage and being named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time, it’€™s safe to say Rask did that.

“I feel good. I feel like I wasn’€™t a disappointment,” Rask said Friday. “It’€™s something where you just try to be as good as people think you are, and you think you are. I accomplished that in the regular season, and there’€™s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”

Last year, Rask raised his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. He posted a .940 save percentage for the entire postseason, and most notably stopped 134 of the 136 shots he faced against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals in one of the greatest single-round performances any goalie has ever had.

This year, Rask is at it again. Almost quietly — perhaps because everyone has just come to expect this — he has a .966 save percentage through four games against the Red Wings. There has been none of the shakiness or uncertainty that so many other playoff teams have had to deal with already. No soft goals. No bad misplays. No wondering if the goalie is lacking confidence. Just exceptional goaltending, one period after another.

“He’€™s an unbelievable goalie,” Matt Bartkowski said. “I have no doubt he’€™s the best goalie in the league. Through the playoffs so far, he’€™s been showing it.”

That unbelievable play makes everything much easier for all the Bruins, but especially for the team’€™s young defensemen. Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller have all been regulars on the Boston blue line this season, and there have been some growing pains for sure.

But those growing pains have been greatly mitigated by Rask’€™s play. Those guys’€™ mistakes don’€™t always end up in the back of the net, which makes it easier to get over them. Rask’€™s excellence also allows Bartkowski, Hamilton and Krug to jump into the offense without hesitating or worrying, which leads to longer offensive-zone possessions and more scoring chances for the Bruins.

“It’€™s huge for any defenseman,” Bartkowski said. “I’€™ve had some good goalies throughout my career and some not-so-good goalies. When you have a good goalie back there, it’€™s a world of difference. Just being able to worry about your job and not have to worry about giving up too much or something like that. We all know if we do our jobs and give Tuukka the right shot, he’€™s going to save it.”

Like every other Bruin, Rask knows the ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup, not individual awards. Earning his first Vezina nomination — and perhaps first Vezina win — is great, but he also wants to win his first Stanley Cup as a starter.

“You dream about these individual awards when you’€™re a kid, too,” Rask said. “It’€™s great recognition. But everybody knows we’€™re a team-first team. It’€™s something that comes after the biggest trophy.”

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