Whether he will admit it or not, Tuukka Rask had to be looking up at the clock late in the third period and praying, “Just get me out of here with a win."
Once again, the Boston Bruins goalie had done his job, this time stopping everything the Florida Panthers had thrown at him, including a David Booth blast off his mask in the second period. But once again, the team in front of him was doing everything but pad their 1-0 lead.
Then, out of nowhere, the hockey Gods answered (in the form of Milan Lucic). Within a span of 15 seconds, Rask and the Bruins had a comfortable 3-0 cushion with 5:03 left in regulation, compliments of Lucic’s second and third goals of the game, his second career hat trick. Rask’s teammates -- who made a promise to him and themselves they would do their best to get him his first win – weren’t done, though, as they put an exclamation point on the game with Shawn Thornton’s fourth lamplighter of the season to make it 4-0 Bruins with 3:54 left in the game.
Rask finished with 41 saves and his seventh shutout of his career, but more importantly, he finally got a win. And his teammates couldn’t have been happier for him.
“He’s definitely one of the best team guys around,” Thornton said of Rask, who has watched his goaltender partner Tim Thomas roar to a 10-1-0 start while Rask went winless through his first five. “So it’s pretty disappointing in the first few games that we couldn’t get a win for him and couldn’t get the goals we needed. He keeps an upbeat attitude the whole time and he’s happy for what’s going on here. He doesn’t put himself ahead of anyone.
"So we talked before the game that we wanted to get one for him. It’s great that he capped it off with a shutout, too. He earned it, that’s for sure; he had some big stops.”
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who played 18:20 in his first game back from a broken forearm, was happy for his goalie, as well, and said the Bruins probably wouldn’t have even had a chance to explode for three third-period goals if not for Rask.
“Lucic gets his first goal and it was basically a stalemate through the second and third period until we got those bunch of goals we got,” Boychuk said. “Tuukka played unbelievable, as we expect him to play, and he made us win the game tonight. He gave us a chance.”
Throughout his winless streak, Rask never laid the blame on his teammates, always pointing to bad bounces and the old cliche, "just one of those nights." One has to believe it ate him up inside, but he wouldn’t show it publicly, and his teammates and coach credited him for the even-keel attitude he brings to work every day.
“If he’s going to lose his temper, it’s after the game,” Julien said of Rask. “He comes off, if he loses, he’s definitely emotional, but through it all he understands; I guess he takes the time to think about it. ... And I didn’t think his game was that bad [during the winless streak]. I don’t think he was at the top of his game, but I certainly don’t think he was playing bad, and he knew that eventually by sticking with it, things would start going his way, and pucks tonight started hitting him a little bit more. But a couple of times, he made some unbelievable saves and bailed us out.”
Rask did a lot of bailing out the Bruins last season. Whatever it was that had him winless until Thursday night, the Rask from last season seemed to come back against the Panthers, and the Finnish netminder was thrilled to break what he termed the longest winless streak of his entire hockey career.
“To be honest, I wasn’t that frustrated but, yeah, it’s good to get that first win,” Rask said. “The guys were great through it all, and it was awesome to get those goals late. I’m just happy we got the win and we kept this [three-game win] streak going. I knew it would come, and now you just keep going.”