Commentary

Tuukka Rask saves Bruins' bacon

Unlike his teammates, Boston goalie on top of game in shutting down Rangers

Updated: November 20, 2013, 1:26 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- Someone must have forgotten to inform Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask that the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs are over.

He should be reminded that the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Bruins and won the Cup. It was a short summer. Training camp is over, and the first month and a half of the 2013-14 season is complete. Rask is off to a solid start and playing exactly the way he did during the team's postseason run last spring.

On Tuesday, he turned in a 43-save performance and stole a 2-1 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesTuukka Rask made a season-high 43 saves against the Rangers in improving to 12-5-1.

It was the first time this season the Bruins allowed more than 40 shots in a game. Rask saw a lot of rubber and he was in total control. Similar to how the Rangers played against the Bruins during the Stanley Cup playoffs last May, New York crashed the net and produced some good looks.

"They came at us hard and Tuukka stood tall for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said.

The Rangers, who have not scored an even-strength goal in their past three games, created a relentless attack against the Bruins and Rask. New York was putting the puck in open areas and the forwards were chasing it down, controlling it and producing quality scoring chances.

Other than a solid third period, Julien felt his team was sloppy. The Bruins received goals from Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille, but this game was all about Rask.

"They played an extremely good game. Tuukka played unbelievable and held us in there," Thornton said. "I don't know how many breakaways they had tonight, including a penalty shot. If it wasn't for him, it could have been a completely different outcome."

After Monday's morning skate in Raleigh, N.C., Julien and Rask discussed the possibility of Rask playing both games of the Bruins' back-to-back set. Since it was a relatively easy game Monday night against the Hurricanes, the two spoke again after the 4-1 win and decided Rask would start against the Rangers.

Even after the team's optional skate at MSG, Julien said he was considering going with backup Chad Johnson, given the situation. But Rask is beginning to show he can handle the playing time and seems to be better when he plays more.

"I didn't feel tired after [Monday's] game. I thought it was pretty easy," Rask said of his 23-save performance. "I was lucky enough I didn't have two games in a row like [Tuesday's]."

Rask played back-to-back games on Oct. 30 (at Pittsburgh) and 31 (at home against Anaheim). If he starts against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday at TD Garden, it will be three games in four nights for the No. 1 goalie.

"I usually feel better the second night," Rask said. "I don't think you need that many shots every time when you play back-to-backs. It's true. I don't know what it is. I remember from the minors, I usually felt better on the Saturday game."

Rask is 12-5-1 in 18 starts this season and is on pace to play a career high in games (he played 45 during the 2009-10 season). Despite the early workload, he's feeling good about his game, and it showed again on Tuesday.

Rask admitted after the game he likes to be busy because he feels like he's in a groove. That was the view from the bench, too.

"When you don't get that many shots, you get cold standing there," Julien said. "If anything, he kind of gets into it and he just felt it tonight. He was poised. He was square to all the pucks. I don't know if he made a lot of things look real complicated, but there were a lot of pucks thrown at the net, a lot of deflections going everywhere."

With the game scoreless in the first period, the Rangers' Chris Kreider was awarded a penalty shot. But Rask stopped him and gave the Bruins some momentum.

"I have to give him a ton of credit. He had a great game and he's a great goaltender," Kreider said. "I am confident in my ability to shoot a hockey puck. I think when I hit my spot, it tends to go in, especially when I'm pretty close and in pretty tight."

A key aspect to Rask's performance was the fact the Bruins were down to five defensemen after losing Dennis Seidenberg within the first minute of the game due to a lower-body injury.

"[Rask] was unbelievable," said defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who logged 24:24 of ice time. "When you're out there, you don't really expect a goal to go in -- you just know how good he is. You know if there's a shot, he's probably going to save it.

"There have been goalies I've played with that you don't want to give up shots because it could go in, but with Tuukka it's a lot different. You are pretty much 100 percent confident he's going to make the save."

With the Bruins holding a 2-1 lead in the third period, the Rangers kept attacking, and time and again Rask turned them away. He even had some luck from his friend, the post, on a few occasions in the period.

The Bruins have won six of their past seven games, and even though Tuesday's victory was a hard-fought, grind-out style of game, Julien still isn't pleased with his team's overall play. Fortunately for the Bruins, Rask has been outstanding.

"We were able to hang on, but a lot of credit goes to Tuukka," Julien said.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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