How about a little opening night overreaction?
The Boston Bruins have to sign Tuukka Rask to a contract extension and keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. And the goaltender showed you every reason why in the Bruins’ inaugural game of their post-Zdeno Chara existence Thursday — a 3-2 road shootout win over the New Jersey Devils.
The extra point in the standings was on the line in the second half of overtime, when Kyle Palmieri had a breakaway. Rask, cool as could be, turned the shot away.
Rask denies Palmieri. pic.twitter.com/RViJldYD2I
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 15, 2021
A minute later, Egor Sharangovich inexplicably got free in the Boston zone and fired a shot from the left circle — glove save Rask.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 15, 2021
To make matters exciting, the Bruins gave Jack Hughes a breakaway with the last seconds of the period ticking away. The second-year sniper was no match for the 34-year-old Finn.
Imagine a world where the Bruins, next season with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the rest of this core still skating in Boston sweaters, don’t have the all-world goaltending of Tuukka Rask. Makes you want to cry.
The Bruins plan to break in youth on their backline without Chara and Torey Krug around. Already Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril have joined the lineup; Urho Vaakanainen will get some run later this season. If you’re not going to have a Chara-like figure to help develop the prospects, you better have a Vezina Trophy winner guarding your crease, making up for mistakes, and settling things down.
“Even when the game gets a little rough for us, he’s calm and when you see that our of your goalie and he’s making that big save, it allows you to calm down and get back on track,” said Marchand, the only goal-scorer in the shootout, after the win.
There will be other unrestricted free agent goalies next offseason. Pekka Rinne is 38 and hasn’t been right for a couple seasons. Frederik Andersen, Jordan Binnington, Devan Dubnyk, Philipp Grubauer are the type of goalies teams chasing lightning in a bottle spend big bucks on. When you have a Rask in your possession, and he expresses a lack of desire to play anywhere but Boston, you’ve got to keep him and keep him happy.
The Bruins should take Rask and his preseason proclamation that he wants to stay here to the bank and let him take whatever he wants out of their vault. If he really wants to remain with the Bruins after all the criticism, all the chiding, and after what was said about him after he left the bubble last summer for a family emergency, well then a blank check is the least the Bruins could give him for his loyalty.
Of course, signing players doesn’t work that way in a salary-cap world, or in the midst of a pandemic. The flat cap is going to make difficult decisions for general manager Don Sweeney and his 31 counterparts around the league. This really isn’t a difficult one, though. There’s no No. 1 goalie coming through the pipeline, and no one that does what Rask does available on the open market. At a bare minimum, the Bruins should make it clear that when there’s more financial certainty, a contract will be waiting for him and make sure he signs it — even if it’s not until summer — before another GM can make him think twice about staying in the only NHL city he’s known as home.
This season’s going to get more difficult. The Devils gave the Bruins a hard time, but the battles with Washington, Philadelphia, and the New York Islanders are going to push the Bruins’ young defense corps to the brink. Rask might have his annual midseason slump, or he might be able to avoid it because of the condensed schedule and the help he’s going to get from Jaroslav Halak.
Nonetheless, we all know that when it’s all said and done Tuukka Rask is going to be among a handful of goalies challenging for the Vezina, and in turn he’ll probably have the Bruins in the mix for the Stanley Cup. There’s really no way the Bruins will uphold that level of success without Rask in the next three or four seasons.
So wanting to lock up Rask for the long-term after watching him win one, early-season game at New Jersey really isn’t an overreaction. It’s a rational affirmation of something we knew long before this season started.