Rask takes torch from Thomas as Bruins return

There’s one big difference for the Boston Bruins this year as

they try to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three

seasons.

They’ll have to do it without Tim Thomas, the Vezina and Conn

Smythe Trophy-winning goaltender who was the star of their 2011

championship run. The enigmatic but frequently unbeatable goalie

has decided to take a year off, choosing instead to relax with his

family in Colorado.

That leaves the No. 1 goaltender job in the skates of Tuukka

Rask, who performed ably in the top spot in 2010 but has never been

the starter for an entire season.

”We’ve always kind of had a plan, a succession plan … for

handing the reins over to him when it’s time,” general manager

Peter Chiarelli said this week as the Bruins opened their

abbreviated training camp after the lockout was settled. ”Maybe

it’s a year early from my perspective, but it’s close enough that

we’re happy where he is in his development.”

Rask had a 2.05 goals-against average in 25 games as Thomas’

backup last season, a year after posting a 2.67 mark in 29 games in

the 2010-11 regular season; Thomas played every second of the 2011

Stanley Cup playoff run. In 2010, when Thomas was struggling with a

hip injury, Rask had a 1.97 goals-against average in a career-high

45 games before the Bruins’ collapse in the second round of the

playoffs against Philadelphia.

”I think he acquitted himself quite well” that year, Chiarelli

said. ”I think he got fatigued a little toward the end, due to the

workload, due to the pressure; maybe more so due to the mental

pressure of being No. 1. So that’s a challenge that he’s going to

have, but he’s gone through all the steps of development, and he’s

passed them all with flying colors. He should be ready for the

challenge.”

Coach Claude Julien said he is going to try to use Rask and

backup Anton Khudobin in the same way he used Rask as the backup

for Thomas, trying to get the No. 1 guy frequent rest.

”Tuukka’s got an opportunity here to take over for Tim,”

Julien said. ”He certainly has to prove that he can, but I think

he’s shown the ability to be a good goaltender in this league.

Maybe he doesn’t have the number of games that Tim was getting, but

he’ll be given that opportunity as well. And if there’s times where

he needs a rest, we’ve got another goaltender that I think can do

the job also.”

The Bruins head into the shortened season with nine players who

found jobs in Europe during the lockout – among the most in the

league – and others who were able to play in the minors. They’re

hoping that gives them an edge after a one-week training camp that

will leave the unprepared gasping for air.

Among them was Rask, who played in the Czech Republic.

”The start’s going to be important for us, as it is for

everybody,” he said. ”It’s going to be a challenge mentally and

physically, for sure. Luckily we had a lot of guys who played

overseas and are in midseason form. So we’ve just got to make sure

we know our system, we play the way we can and take care of our

bodies because it’s going to be a quick season, but it’s also going

to be a grind.”

Defenseman Zdeno Chara said the number of players finding work

overseas ”showed the willingness of the guys to stay in shape and

to sacrifice being with family and friends.”

But, he said, ”It’s only an advantage if it works.”

Another player who could benefit from the conditioning was Tyler

Seguin, who played in Switzerland after an NHL season in which he

led Boston with 29 goals and 67 points last season. In and out of

the lineup as a rookie in 2010-11, when the Bruins won it all, the

former No. 2 overall draft pick played in the 2012 All-Star game in

Ottawa and signed a six-year, $34 million contract just before the

lockout.

”We’ve said all along this guy has unlimited potential,”

Julien said. ”And I think what you’re seeing now is the more

confidence he has, the better he is. And I think at one point as a

young player, you’re coming in playing with men and it could be

intimidating, especially along the boards and when you meet up with

people like Zdeno and stuff. But now certainly he’s a lot more

confident going after pucks and protecting it and his confidence is

at the level there where I think he’s going to take another step

forward.”

The Bruins also signed forward Brad Marchand to a four-year deal

and Milan Lucic to a three-year extension in the days before the

four-month lockout that shortened the season to 48 games.

Boston won the Northeast Division by 10 points last season and

had the No. 2 seed in the East before losing to the Washington

Capitals in seven games, in overtime, in the first round of the

playoffs. That was a disappointing title defense, which the Bruins

hope to compensate for this year.

They could have a tougher road in the conference, with Ottawa

remaining solid and Buffalo attempting to get tougher over the

extended offseason. Along with last year’s late-season acquisition

of center Cody Hodgson, the Sabres added center Steve Ott and wing

John Scott to a team that missed the playoffs in 2012.

”I think it’s going to add to the rivalries that are already

there, and also the competitiveness,” Lucic said. ”There are only

two teams that made the playoff last year from our division. …

And with less games I think it’s going to create a much tougher

battle for that first seed in the Northeast Division.”