Tuukka Rask to blame or teammates?

BOSTON -- Throughout the past week, the main topic surrounding the Boston Bruins has been when Tuukka Rask would start again.

Well, get used to that question because, on Saturday, Rask finally returned between the pipes for his second start of the season and the result was similar to his first: His team didn't play well in front of him and he wasn't playing at a level at which he could steal a game.

Rask made 27 saves in the Bruin's 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers, their first loss in four games.

Rask admitted after the game to being rusty, pointing out that there's nothing like game action to keep a goalie in the zone.

"Nothing really you can do, nothing you can do, just work hard and do the same things," Rask said. "No matter how much you think it's a game-like situation in practice, it's not the same when the game starts; it's always different, and we'll see."

Rask, who led the Bruins to within one game of the Eastern Conference finals after a superb 2009-10 rookie season, entered 2010-11 as the incumbent No.1 goalie in the eyes of the media and fans. But after allowing four goals in the 5-2 season-opening loss to Phoenix in Prague, Rask rode the pine for four consecutive games as Tim Thomas returned to his Vezina Trophy form of 2008-09 with four brilliant wins.

On Thursday, the Finnish netminder and the team -- maybe uniting against the supposed goalie controversy -- duped the media into believing he would finally start against the Capitals by Rask's skating off the ice before Thomas after the pregame skate, but it ended up being Thomas who got the nod and again shut down the Capitals with 38 saves.

Following Saturday's loss, Bruins coach Claude Julien was already trying to quell the goalie controversy talk by delivering the initial blow to the media.

"I mean, hindsight's 20/20," Julien said. "If we want to keep battling away at that, that's up to you guys. I think as far as we're concerned, we felt good about [Rask] and his game, and with a little bit of luck, I think he probably would've had his first win tonight."

With Thomas playing some of if not the best hockey of his career lately, and with Rask now 0-2-0, the words "goalie controversy" -- whether Julien and his team like it or not -- are bound to grow even louder in the coming days. The Bruins are preparing for a Northeast Division tilt with the first-place Maple Leafs on Thursday.

But the reality is Julien is right. Rask has been the victim of some hard-luck goals and hasn't played horrible at all. He actually played better Saturday than in the season opener, and while he might have been able to stop the game-winning goal on a breakaway by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal 48 ticks into the third period, the first two goals came on mid-air tip-ins with which not many goalies would have had better luck.

"So how do you evaluate him?" Julien said of Rask. "We can talk about the breakaway goal, and when Tuukka's at his best, he probably has that. But I thought, if anything, I felt he made some big saves as the game progressed. We saw more of the Tuukka that we all know he can be."

Rask's teammates know they've let him down so far and know they need to play better in front of him.

"You know, you really feel bad for him," forward Milan Lucic said. "We kind of let him out to dry both times he has been in net and hasn't gotten great starts. You can't say anything bad about his game tonight. He played well for us, he kept us in it, he kept it 3-2 and he gave us a chance.

"Like I've said before, we have two great goalies here and we don't care who is in net back there. We know we are going to get a solid effort."

But with chants of "We want Thomas! We want Thomas!" scattering throughout TD Garden after the Rangers went up 2-0, the fans -- and most likely the media -- are not going to see things the same way as Lucic and his teammates. In a culture of "what have you done for me lately?" they will want the goalie who looks like he is a Vezina Trophy winner. And again, that's Thomas right now.

James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.