The goaltender has stepped out of the shadows of his predecessor, writes Gregg Patton.
Tuuku Rask enjoying being in the NHL spotlight with the Boston Bruins
Tim Thomas is conspicuously missing from the NHL post-season. The former Boston Bruins goaltender retired in the prime of his career this past year.
He is the only winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy (most valuable player in the play-offs) from the past four seasons no longer with his team, as that quartet of 2009-through-2012 Stanley Cup winners moved into the conference finals this weekend.
That puts his replacement, Tuukka Rask, squarely in the spotlight. The 26-year-old Finn was good enough in the first two rounds as the Bruins eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers.
But if he is to help the Bruins, the 2011 champions, get past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals, he may need a Thomas-like performance.
Step 1, apparently, is accepting the fact that the Penguins "are going to score some goals," Rask said.
Step 2 is not getting caught up in the Thomas comparisons, which he thought he had put to rest by having a first-rate regular season.
"I'm tired of proving this, proving that," he said. "I'm just out there to play, do my best, and that's it."
In fact, there is something special to prove for one of these teams — that a core group of players can win the Cup twice.
The Bruins, Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are the first foursome of recent champs to meet since 1945, back when the NHL had just six teams. Now there are 30.
This is a league noticeably absent of dynasties. No team has retained the title since 1997-98.
And no team in the salary cap era (post-2005) has won twice.
"We want to be remembered as the team that got it done when it counted," Tyler Kennedy of Pittsburgh told TribLive.com.
The Penguins won in 2009, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (Smythe winner) at the fore. Injuries have plagued the team since.
The Blackhawks won in 2010, when Jonathan Toews won the Smythe. His surrounding cast still features the defenceman Duncan Keith and the gifted scorer Patrick Kane.
The Bruins of 2011 may be missing Thomas, but their defensive rock, Zdeno Chara, and many of their worker-bee role players, are still there.
As for the Kings, they rode Smythe winner/hot goalie Jonathan Quick to last year's title, and are depending on his talent again.
Whichever team is to win, of course, knows it likely will come down to exceptional goalie play.
"It always does," said Rask, who does not need a trophy to figure that out.
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