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A Rask decision

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 31, 2010 10:02 AM

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Yesterday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub, host Gary Tanguay suggested Bruins coach Claude Julien should be fired for starting Tim Thomas in net Monday night against Buffalo.

I'd comment, but the sheer inanity of such a statement sort of just speaks for itself.

Today though, he's probably ready to award the man a new three-year contract extension for starting Tuukka Rask last night in Boston's stellar 1-0 overtime win over the Devils, a victory that some feel means we'll never see Thomas in between the pipes ever again.

Until, you know...this weekend maybe.

But didn't you know, Thomas is washed up. Finished. It's time for Rask to take the reins, and end the nonsense of flip-flopping them in net. Otherwise, Julien should be...nah, forget it.

But even the staunchest supporter of Thomas has to realize that this perceived goalie controversy is over.

Really, this was all Rask's fault anyway. By throwing up a stinker to Tampa last week, Julien was prompted to start Thomas against Calgary Saturday night. Thomas goes and tosses a shutout and all hell breaks loose, leading to Tuesday's start and subsequent pulling.

Rask brought balance back last night. The job is his. We think.

It's easy to appreciate just how good Rask has been for the Bruins after a game like last night's. Boston would most likely be looking at the playoffs the same way the Florida Panthers are looking at them right now without him. The 1-0 win last night was Rask's third shutout of the month, and third in his last four games. Only Nashville's Pekka Rinne boasts more goose egg victories in March.

He shares the NHL save percentage lead with Ryan Miller, and his 2.02 GAA is almost a quarter-goal better than his Buffalo counterpart. There's an argument to be made that he's the best goalie in the game right now, never mind his own bench. The kid is winning even with Dennis Wideman in front of him.

But please. Can we end the nonsense that anyone not named Rask is an unmitigated disaster in net? The Bruins happen to have two No. 1 goalies: One of the best in the NHL this season and last year's Vezina Trophy winner. Despite all the eye-rolling when Thomas is in net, he's still 3-3 this month with a 2.72 GAA. Before last night, Rask was a mere 4-4 (albeit with a nifty 1.86 GAA). Call me crazy, but I'd rather see Thomas every few evenings if only so the young goalie doesn't burn himself out prior to the playoffs.

And really, despite the demand for Rask, it's not like he hasn't had his blips either, most notably last week's loss against Tampa, and the overall disaster that was the 3-0 defeat at the hands of Matt Cooke and Friends.

Depending on if you're a glass half full or empty sort of person, the Bruins are either in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, or they're two points away from missing the playoffs. Both assertions are correct. And wouldn't you know it, a sixth or seventh-place finish would mean an opening-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

All of a sudden, the offensively-challenged Bruins have scored 42 goals this month, not including the pair Wideman scored for Buffalo the other night. Boston goalies and defense, meanwhile, have combined to allow 35 goals this month, tied for third-best in March. I hate to sound like an optimist, but something could indeed be brewing here.

Maybe. Getting a hold on this team is still like trying to pin down the true nature and intentions of Flocke and Jacob.

Just six games remain on the schedule, three of which (two vs. Washington, one vs. Buffalo) could be playoff previews. Rask should start the majority of those contests, leaving room for Thomas to earn a start vs. Carolina on April 10 (thanks to back-to-back games on the final weekend), and possibly vs. Toronto on Saturday.

In a league where goaltending can be a fickle thing year-to-year, the fact that the Bruins are loaded at the position is nothing but a benefit, despite what irrational Bruins fans and talk show hosts might make you believe. Is Thomas peeved at his "demotion?" I love Thomas. Always have back to his collegiate days. But really, who cares? That's an issue for the offseason, when the goalie the Bruins groomed from the ashes could demand he and his controversial contract be moved elsewhere.

Right now, in this dramatic playoff push, the Bruins need to go with the hot hand, the young kid who we expected to emerge someday as one of the game's most exciting goalies.

Of course, don't rule out Rask allowing five goals to the Panthers tomorrow night, Thomas getting the start Saturday and...well, you know how it goes by now.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.


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