I got a fever...and the only prescription is, More Tuukka!
OK-Tuukka Rask may not have the same kind of ring that Cowbell does, but you cannot deny that the rookie has played exceedingly well this season. Tonight, he blanked the Atlanta Thrashers in a 4-0 Bruins victory, his second shutout of the season.
It was a fine tuneup for Friday's eagerly awaited Winter Classic (the Philadelphia Flyers did their part with a 5-0 pasting of the New York Rangers tonight) at Fenway Park, and while Rask will give way to Tim Thomas for the start in that New Year's hockey extravaganza, the 22-year-old Finn has made a convincing case for more playing time.
I'm a believer in both goaltenders. I refuse to tear one down in order to advocate for the other. I have said multiple times that I think some fans give Thomas a rough shake simply because they don't like his contract and harp on the miscues he's had this season. His numbers aren't that bad, and no goalie, no matter how good, is going to go through an entire season without giving up soft goals here and there. Despite his mistakes, he's given his team a chance to win most nights, and that's what matters most.
Here's the deal: having two top goalies is a great problem to have, and while I still see Thomas as the team's starter, I also think that Claude Julien ought to give Rask more time between the pipes. He's earned it, and made all the scouts who said he was a stud going back to his time as a 16-year-old playing at the Viking Cup in Alberta bang-on geniuses.
Tim-or-Tuukka is the kind of debate that will polarize fans because the contrasting styles between the two players makes it red meat for sports radio, internet message forums or whatever passes for watercooler discussion these days. Thomas is chaotic and helter skelter, while Rask is smooth, slick economy of motion. Both are highly effective, and in Rask's case, he's lived up to the hype that has surrounded him for quite some time and then some.
Bottom line: Rask deserves more playing time, but he's not worthy of being the starter in Boston. Yet. His time will come, but for now, this is still Thomas' team.
Also- Congratulations to Patrice Bergeron, who was named to Canada's Olympic Team today. What he has done to play his way onto that elite All-Star squad of multiple futue Hall of Famers is remarkable given where he was two years ago after suffering that brutal concussion 10 games into the season.
I still feel privileged to have spent an afternoon with the then-17-year-old when I stayed at the same hotel in Nashville he did. At that time, we sat in the hotel restaurant and talked about a lot of things, some of it hockey, some of it not. He wasn't as confident or proficient an English speaker as he is now, but he never once shied away from trying to answer my questions or expressed any discomfort with the situation. I remember how serious and mature he was, and even though I'd never seen him play, I had a feeling he would be something special. He was just another teenager who'd heard his name called by an NHL team that day in June, but even as impressed as I was with who he was, I had no inkling that he would become an impact NHL player at 18, and eventually become one of Boston's top forwards and a 2010 Olympian.
Tonight, my glass is raised to the 24-year-old from Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec. I can think of no other player on that team who worked harder or is more deserving of that roster spot that Bergeron. He's not a hulking power forward in the mold of Ryan Getzlaf, but he's strong as an ox and nearly impossible to knock of the puck. He's not a lightning-fast skater, but manages to get where he needs to. He doesn't have a cannon shot, but knows how to bury the biscuit at crunch time. And when it comes to finding his open linemates in all zones, he's up there with the very best.
And, he's been on the precipice of seeing his career prematurely ended...and skated away from it. He knows better than most what it takes to be a winner in this game, and he'll bring that character, intensity and leadership with him to Vancouver in February.
Although it is disappointing not to see Marc Savard and Milan Lucic on the team, Steve Yzerman picked the right Bruin to represent Canada.