BOSTON -- Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien called it “fishing” for an angle when asked about goaltender Tuukka Rask's first game against the Philadelphia Flyers since the devastating collapse in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
It was the Eastern Conference semifinals, and Boston gained a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with Rask as the team’s starting goaltender. Philadelphia, however, won the next four games -- including rallying from a 3-0 Game 7 deficit -- en route to a series victory.
Then-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas struggled with a hip injury late that season, so Boston relied on Rask in the playoffs. The young goaltender outdueled the Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan Miller in the first round before the Bruins faced the Flyers.
With Rask in net, Boston won the first three games by the scores of 5-4 (OT), 3-2 and 4-1 before the team imploded and lost the next four games. Rask was tired and couldn't steal one of those four games, in which he gave up a total of 15 goals (a 3.75 goals-against average).
In 2011, the Bruins had their revenge and swept the Flyers in four games in the second round of the playoffs with Thomas in net. Including those games and eight regular-season matchups, Rask has had to watch a total 12 games against the Flyers from the bench.
Rask posted his second shutout of the season with 23 saves to help Boston to a 3-0 win over the Flyers at TD Garden. After the game, he said the 2010 collapse did not serve as any motivation.
“It’s in the past,” Rask said. “As I’ve said before, we won the whole thing the year after. Things happen in hockey, and for a goalie, if you start thinking that certain matchups are better for you than others, you’ve lost half the battle. It was just a game, like any other.
“I won three games in that playoff series, too, but too bad I just lost the last four. It’s hockey. Things happen in hockey. That year, it was Philly. It happens.”
It really isn’t about just one game against the Flyers. Rask has had to prove that he can handle the workload as a true No. 1 now that Thomas is a thing of the past in Boston. Rask has been outstanding this season, posting a 12-2-3 record with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. The shutout was the 13th of his career.
The Bruins are two games shy of the halfway point of this lockout-shortened, 48-game season, and Rask’s play has helped Boston become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
“I feel good,” Rask said. “Taking the last game [against Toronto] off, it was good to get a little rest, but I’ve felt good throughout these games. It’s going to get busier and busier, so I think it’s really good to keep both goalies going.”
Rask didn’t have to be at his best on Saturday because the defense in front of him was great. When the final buzzer sounds, and your team’s goalie finished with a shutout, it’s an indication of the overall defensive play.
“Really good, the best so far this year,” he said. “We did a great job.”
Rask said he could see every shot and could make the save cleanly or control the rebound. Philadelphia didn’t create many quality scoring chances, but when they did, Rask was ready. In the third period, the Flyers had 11 shots, and despite seeing only 12 in the first two periods, Rask was sharp in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s never easy, but whenever you don’t see that much traffic, or that many shots in the game, it’s kind of mentally tougher to stay sharp,” Rask said. “But when they got those shots, I felt pretty comfortable.”
Bruins forward Tyler Seguin saved a shutout for Rask -- literally -- in the waning minutes of regulation. The Bruins were on a power play when the Flyers created a short-handed opportunity. Rask came out of the net to charge a loose puck, but Philadelphia gained control and shot at the open net. Seguin sprawled out on the ice to make the save and preserve the shutout.
“That was Tyler? I thought it was Dougie [Hamilton]. OK, it was great, great,” Rask said with a laugh. “He was telling me he would have caught the guy when I sprinted out of the net. It’s good to see he’s got my back and he’s got those goalie skills, too. It’s good to see. You’ve got to keep it exciting, right?”
If there were any doubts about Rask as the No. 1 goaltender in Boston, he’s erased those so far this season. There are still 26 games remaining, including what should be a deep run into the postseason for the Bruins.
It won't be his shutout performance against the Flyers on Saturday that will stand out but his entire body of work in 2013. With Rask, it really is about the present and not the past.
The same goes for the defense that protects him.
“I don’t know if I can say, ‘back on track’ until I see it on a consistent basis,” Julien said of his team’s defense. “Today was probably the first day I felt much better about our game without the puck in our defensive zone. We didn’t give them much; they didn’t have a ton of scoring chances, but obviously we've got two tough games [coming up] with Ottawa and Pittsburgh on the road, and we’ll need that kind of game to win those.”