Tuukka Rask’s year just got even better. The NHL on Friday named Rask one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s top goalie, along with Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov. It is the first Vezina nomination for the 27-year-old Finn.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s had such a good year; he’s been so good for us. He’s had an unbelievable season. He did well at the Olympics for his team, too, but this is based on the NHL and I just think he’s had a tremendous year. I would have been really disappointed had he not been one of the three nominees.”
Rask posted a 2.04 goals-against average (fourth in the league) and a .930 save percentage (second to Minnesota’s Josh Harding’s .933 in 29 games). He had career-best marks in shutouts with seven (leading the NHL), wins with 36, and games played at 58. Moreover, he allowed two or fewer goals in 38 games.
Putting up good numbers is a big deal, but demeanor counts, too. Always a confident goalie, Rask displayed the same calm control in the face of a cluster of reporters at TD Garden.
“It’s a great honor to be nominated,’’ Rask said. “I mean, you dream about these individual awards when you’re a kid, too, it’s great recognition, but everybody knows we’re a team-first team, and this is something that comes after the biggest trophy.’’
Rask did not earn a Vezina nomination last season, when many thought he should have. He was unruffled.
“It’s something that comes after the Stanley Cup, that’s your main goal,’’ he said. “If you get nominated, great, if not, then it doesn’t matter.”
Rask’s focus is the Bruins’ first-round playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings. The Bruins lead, 3-1, with Game 5 Saturday at TD Garden. But he paused briefly to accept some accolades.
“I feel honored to be nominated,’’ he said, “and happy to go to Vegas for the first time in my life.”
The NHL Awards will be presented June 24 at Wynn Las Vegas.
The nomination was no surprise to Rask’s teammates.
“We knew that was coming, big congratulations to him,’’ said defenseman Kevan Miller. “Hopefully he wins it. He’s huge back there for us.”
Rask’s confident presence has made the game easier for the rest of the Bruins, throughout the season and in the playoffs. It was Rask who kept the Bruins afloat during a difficult first period in Game 4 Thursday, when the Red Wings outshot Boston, 15-5. It was Rask who stopped Justin Abdelkader on a breakaway early in overtime, a save that turned the tide in the extra session and eventually led to Jarome Iginla’s winner at 13:32.
“It’s more comfortable playing in front of him,’’ said forward Loui Eriksson. “He makes such good saves all the time. He always stays calm and he’s been unbelievable the whole year.”
Having what amounts to a sure thing behind them has helped the Bruins’ young defenders develop.
“It’s huge for any defenseman,’’ said Matt Bartkowski. “I’ve had some good goalies throughout my career, and some not-so-good goalies. Whenever you have a good goalie back there, it’s a world of a difference, just being able to worry about your job and not worry about giving up too much or something like that. We all know if we do our jobs and give Tuukka the right shot, he’s going to save it.
“He’s an unbelievable goalie. I have no doubt he’s the best goalie in the league. Through this playoff so far he’s been showing it.”
The last time a Bruin won the Vezina was 2011, when Tim Thomas took home the honor. Thomas also won in 2009.
Like his teammate Patrice Bergeron, who was named a finalist for the Selke Trophy Thursday, Rask immediately credited team play as the underpinning of his success.
“You don’t get these nominations or wins for the trophies without your teammates, obviously,’’ he said. “If you look at how our team is built — our defense is great and then we have such good depth on offense. Guys score a lot of goals but they still take pride in their defensive game, too. From a goalie’s standpoint, that’s a huge help.”
There were big expectations after Rask signed an eight-year, $56 million contract last summer. He’s lived up to them.
“I feel good, I feel like I wasn’t a disappointment,’’ he said. “You just try to be as good as people think you are and as good as you think you are. I accomplished that in the regular season. There’s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”