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February 9, 2013 | 10:29am ET
Rask putting doubting Thomases to rest
By Shawn Hutcheon,

BOSTON, MA -- The NHL season is just over two weeks old. For fans in cities like Anaheim, San Jose and Tampa Bay, there have been some good surprises; those teams have jumped out to fast starts. For fans in Los Angeles, Washington and Philadelphia, not so much.

In Boston, the Bruins are 7-1-1 and leading the Eastern Conference by combining team speed, skill and their trademark grit and toughness, to get off to their best start since the 1970-71 season.

Before the season began, there were questions surrounding the team. Could Nathan Horton return to form after suffering two concussions last season? He has and is, arguably, playing the best hockey of his career. Could rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton make the jump from junior to the NHL? Not only has he made the jump, he is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. And what of the special teams? The powerplay has struggled, but the penalty killing units has offset that.

The biggest question on everyone's mind going into the season was, can goaltender Tuukka Rask step in and be the everyday starting netminder? After all, Tim Thomas left large skates to fill and many outside the organization had their doubts.

A quick history lesson here. It was Rask who was the netminder of record during the "Great Collapse of '10." The Bruins had a 3-0 lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals only to lose the series four games to three. Thomas took over the reigns between the pipes for the following season (2010-11) and led Boston to its first Stanley Cup in 38 years.

To his credit, Rask, upon losing the starting job, did not sulk and ask for a trade as some athletes would. Over the next two seasons, he appeared in 29 and 23 games, respectively. When he was not in action, he supported his teammates, maintained his conditioning and worked to improve his game. He knew the organization's plan was for him was to regain the starting role in 2013-14 after Thomas' contract with Boston had expired. Obviously, not all plans go as expected and Rask is the No. 1 man again for the Bruins.

Rask faced the questions from the media and assured everyone that he was ready to take over for the absent Thomas.

"I'm just trying to have fun and give the team a chance to win every night," the 25-year-old netminder said. "That's the only thing I can do."

This season the native of Finland has played in eight of the club's first nine contests amassing a record of 6-1-1. Rask's six victories are tied for best in the NHL. He has .922 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against-average, each rank in the league's top 10 puck stoppers.

Bruins coach Claude Julien began singing Rask's praises at the beginning of training and continues to do so.

"Tuukka's been good for us," said Julien. "He's been really good. If anybody had doubts about Tuukka, hopefully they're erased by now, because he's been solid in every game he's played.

"I think he's given us exactly what we expected from him. Right now, if he can be consistent like that throughout the whole year, we'll be in good shape."

Bruin captain Zdeno Chara, when asked about his goaltender's play said, "He's played very well for us. We're not surprised at all."

Now that the first nine games of the season are in the books, the City of Boston can put the questions to rest because Rask has answered them. He has left the past where it belongs. It is water under the bridge.

As for the present, the Bruins are the top club in their division with 15 points. The future looks awfully bright for this edition of hockey players from Beantown.

With the solid start to the 2013 season, fans can rest assured that the man who NHL Network analyst, Kevin Weekes called, "...the best goaltender in the NHL after the season's first week..." will not falter and TD Garden will see a deep playoff run from it's hockey occupant.

In fact, there is very little doubt that the Eastern Conference team that reaches the Stanley Cup finals will need to skate through Boston in order to reach them, then again, it says here, the building affectionately called "The Gahden" in Boston, will see the Stanley Cup Finals make a return appearance this Spring and Tuukka Rask just may have fun hoisting the Cup over his head for the second time in three years.

Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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