Hadfield: Fair or not, Tuukka under the Hub microscope
In Denver, a defensive back, named Tony Carter, badly misreads Jacoby Jones’ speed. Joe Flacco buys some time then heaves a ball nearly 80 yards in the air, miraculously hooking up with Jones, who is streaking free down the right sideline all alone. The touchdown sends the Divisional Round playoff game into overtime. With new life, the Ravens defeat Denver in extra time. Two games later, Flacco is hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. During the coronation, we forget Carter’s mishap. Suddenly, Flacco is forever elite. It’s etched on his imaginary Legacy Tomb and everything, I swear.
Picture an alternate universe where Carter never curiously slows up and the touchdown never happens. Flacco is still the same guy with the same skill, but to us, he’s not. This exercise may seem silly, but in sports, you’re guilty until proven innocent. Mitigating circumstances, like Carter’s misjudgment, are never taken into account.
All this leads me to the biggest beneficiary of the NHL lockout: Bruins goalie, Tuukka Rask. The “Tuukka Time” moniker gained popularity during the 2009-10 campaign, when Rask briefly usurped Tim Thomas by season’s end to lead the Bruins into the playoffs. After Rask played a part in the B’s infamous collapse to the Flyers in the second round that year, Thomas reestablished his spot as the team’s goaltender, and performed at a superhero level en route to Boston’s first Stanley Cup win in 39 years in 2011.
Thomas is gone now due to an unprecedented public relations disaster last year – a different story for a different day – and Rask has admirably stepped up in his absence. He’s currently third in the NHL with 14 wins and his 1.92 Goals Against Average ranks third among goalies with at least 15 starts.
How we digest sports has become so analytical, yet, sometimes, we still catch ourselves falling into the same anecdotal tropes that we relied on during the pre-“Moneyball” era. Vague immeasurable designations, like being “clutch” or “elite,” still permeate everyday conversations on Internet message boards, columns (yes, I’m guilty too), and, of course, sports talk radio.
Rask can rack up great statistics, wow us by making the occasional highlight reel save, say all the right things, and maybe even win the Vezina Trophy. Still, none of it will matter. The postseason looms large for Rask, who is just 26-years-old, and the shortened regular season is simply a brief precursor. And fair or not – I tend to think it’s not – they’ll be questions about Rask entering the playoffs. Lack of empirical evidence and sample size doesn’t lead to any benefit of the doubt, it just leads to doubt. It appears, these days, “Tuukka Time,” has become biding time.
Ryan Hadfield is a columnist for Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @Hadfield__