BOSTON – For Johnny Boychuk and those on the Bruins side, this is nothing new.
"He's always in the zone," Boychuk stated, almost with a matter-of-fact tone ahead of Game 3 at TD Garden on Monday night. "It's not just right now. He's always in the zone."
But while he's managed brilliance at times in recent years in a secondary role, Tuukka Rask is performing at superlative heights in this 2013 post-season, his performance drawing suitable comparisons to Tim Thomas and his dominance en route to a Boston Stanley Cup in 2011.
"He's been incredible," said Brad Marchand of the Finnish keeper. "[But] it's tough to really compare the two. Timmy's obviously had a great career, won a Cup, a couple Vezinas so he's earned everything. Tuukka, he's coming in, he's playing great... he's the reason we're here right now. We've got to give him a ton of credit."
Strictly by the numbers, Rask is actually scaling heights which supersede those of Thomas when the Bruins captured the Cup two years previous. The 28-year-old has registered a scintillating 1.73 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage through 18 games, besting the 1.98 goals-against-average and .940 save percentage Thomas tallied during his incredible Conn Smythe campaign.
Lingering in the shadow of the American netminder, on a self-imposed sabbatical this year, since 2009-2010 – when he boasted a 1.97 goals-against-average and .931 save percentage – Rask has forcefully strode into the spotlight all by his lonesome this season, his first as the club's defined number one netminder.
Bruins coach Claude Julien believes the gradual process of acclimation into the starting role may have proved beneficial in the development of Rask.
"In hindsight when you look back, it might've been the best thing for him," said Julien. "It allowed him to mature at a reasonable rate, instead of being thrown to the wolves. He's matured a lot. I'm not talking about personality, but mentally, the mental toughness and then being able to be ready, game in and game out. This was his first year as a number one that he played consecutive games and I think he handled it well."
In Game 2 at the Madhouse in Chicago on Saturday, Rask shouldered the woes of the Bruins slow start, turning aside all but one of a 19-shot barrage, his teammates rallying for a 2-1 overtime victory, knotting the series at one game apiece.
"He saved us I don't know how many times," said Dennis Seidenberg. "You can't ask for more."
Yielding 18 goals in a nail-biting seven-game conference quarterfinal series with Toronto, Rask has allowed just 17 markers in two-plus series since – a mere two in the Eastern Final with Pittsburgh – stopping 373 of the 390 shots he's faced for a .957 save percentage.
Not quite the acrobat that Thomas was, Rask gets the job done quietly.
"Timmy was really spectacular," Seidenberg continued, marking the differences between the two, "he jumped around from one corner to the other. But Tuukka is technically very sound, he's very square to the puck so it doesn't look as crazy as it would've been with Timmy. We know how good he is and how much he's helping us out."
Chicago's lone goal in the second game this series required a crush of bodies in the immediate vicinity of Rask, the Bruins goaltender still sprawling back into position after a multitude of unlikely saves.
Topping a performer of such superb caliber is not unfamiliar to the Blackhawks. In emerging with the Western Conference title, Chicago made Jonathan Quick, the Kings Conn Smythe winner in 2012, look reasonably ordinary, Quick posting a mediocre .897 save percentage in five games.
"He seems to be making the first and second and sometimes the third save so you've just got to keep staying with it, stay on those loose pucks," Viktor Stalberg said of Rask, the Chicago winger re-entering the Blackhawks lineup for Game 3 after two games on the sideline. "I don't think there's going to be too many tap-tap goals out there. It's going to be shot and rebound or deflection or whatever it might be; that's the way to beat him."