It wasn’t Loui Eriksson, who scored the game-winning goal at 12:26 to lead the Bruins to a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders. Instead, Rask hugged Chris Kelly at the team’s blue line, and the rest of the Bruins followed.
In the waning seconds of regulation, the Islanders pulled goaltender Chad Johnson for an extra attacker, and New York was pressuring when the puck made its way back to the point. Standing there locked and loaded was Islanders defenseman, and former Bruin, Johnny Boychuk, who possesses one of the heaviest shots in the NHL.
Boychuk unloaded, but Kelly went down and blocked the shot to secure the victory for Boston. Normally at the end of a game, the goalie stays in front of his net and his teammates swarm around him to congratulate him after a win. On Saturday, Rask couldn’t wait to thank Kelly.
“Hey, I didn’t want to stop that. I saw who was shooting it and that’s why I was so happy for him,” said Rask, who finished with 39 saves. “You need that. In important moments of the game you need to sacrifice and it was good to see that.”
After the game, Kelly gingerly walked to his locker to talk about the team’s win and his blocked shot.
“Tuukka bails us out all year long, so if we can try to get in those shooting lanes and help him out a little bit because we really do appreciate him. It’s nice when he can appreciate us a little bit,” Kelly said.
He was sporting a bit of a limp for his heroics, but he will be fine.
“Things have felt better,” he said with a smile. “It is what it is.”
Kelly also knew exactly who the shooter was.
“Oh, yeah. Unfortunately. It would’ve been nice if it was someone else,” he said. “He got me last game in New York, too.”
With Saturday’s game in the books, the most important question is, can the Bruins finally beat the Montreal Canadiens?
Boston hosts Montreal on Sunday night at TD Garden, and it appears Rask will get the nod, despite a career 3-12-3 record against the Canadiens.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Nobody’s told me otherwise, so I’m sure I’m playing. If I play hopefully we’ll get a win so I don’t have to answer those questions again.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, they’re playing their best hockey of the season and have earned points in 14 of their past 16 games. Rask is also on top of his game, so it’s a good time for him to shake the Montreal demons in the final regular-season matchup between the teams before a possible playoff series.
“It’s always a big game against them," Rask said. "Wherever you go in Boston it’s, ‘Well, the Habs are coming to town. It’s a big game.’ We don’t really think of it as any bigger game than usual. We try to approach it as any other game, but the fact is we haven’t been able to beat them that many times in the past and we have to change it because most likely we’re going to face them in the playoffs this year, so we have to learn to play against them.”
Rask is normally better in the second game of back-to-backs, but Sunday will be a major test for him. He’s now played 10 consecutive games and 19 of the past 20.
“Try to break the record, I guess,” said Rask with a smile.
Bruins coach Claude Julien knows Rask is playing his best hockey of the season, and the netminder is proving why he won the Vezina Trophy last season.
“It’s one of many lately,” Julien said. “He’s in the zone. He’s been really good for us, focused and even intense. He’s not afraid to yell at the players around him if they’re not doing their jobs. He’s been a determined athlete in this last little while and it’s made a big difference for our hockey team.”
When asked if Rask will face the Canadiens on Sunday, Julien simply said, “Are there any other questions?”
Rask needs to answer whether or not he can beat the Canadiens.