- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has a genuine way of expressing himself.
Win or lose, he'll give it to you straight. That was the case after he helped Boston to a 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night at TD Garden. The Bruins just returned to action after the NHL's mandated three-day holiday break, and while a bit of rust showed in the first period, Rask was on top of his game and made 15 saves in the first 20 minutes.
"If you're rusty, then your team is screwed," Rask said afterward.
His teammates responded in the final two periods en route to victory. Rask finished with 33 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the season and the 20th of his NHL career. It was also his 20th win of the season, as he improved to 20-8-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
"I didn't even know that," Rask said of reaching 20 wins. "You always want to win more games than you lose, obviously, but when you look at the way you've been playing and you want to keep that consistency, so it's a challenge for the next half of the season."
This is only the second time in his NHL career Rask has reached 20 wins. During the 2009-10 season, Rask earned 22 wins in 45 regular-season games (39 starts) while splitting time in net with fellow goalie Tim Thomas. Last season, Rask was 19-10-5 in 36 games (34 starts) during the lockout-shortened, 48-game season.
When he signed an eight-year deal worth $56 million during the summer, Rask knew his workload would reach a career high in 2013-14. The Bruins are nearly halfway (38 games) through the 82-game season, and Rask is one of the main reasons Boston remains atop the Atlantic Division.
At this point, Rask is on pace to start 65 games, which is achievable and probably represents the outer limit of what would be a reasonable workload. Plus, there's a strong possibility he'll earn a spot on the Finnish Olympic team, and the last thing the Bruins want is a worn-out Rask come playoff time.
"Good. Good," Rask said when asked how he's feeling after playing 30 games already this season. "There was that one stretch where I played a lot in a row and obviously got fatigued and tired. But then the past few weeks, I think I've had enough rest, and [backup goalie Chad Johnson has] been able to come in and do the job, too. I've felt good so far."
For perspective on Rask's load this season, consider that Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, reached a career high of 66 games (62 starts) during the 2006-07 season.
It's also interesting timing for the Bruins to recall rookie goalie Niklas Svedberg from Providence of the AHL. According to Bruins coach Claude Julien, the team promised Svedberg during training camp that he would receive a promotion to Boston at some point this season. He has played well for the P-Bruins, posting an 11-5-3 record with a 2.91 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 20 games.
Svedberg served as the Bruins' backup Friday night, and there's a strong possibility he could make his NHL debut against the Senators on Saturday night in Ottawa. Fellow backup Johnson is not injured and was a healthy scratch Friday.
If the Bruins decide to maintain Rask's workload, it would be interesting to see which goalie serves as his backup for the remainder of the season. The organization can easily send Svedberg back to Providence, but if the Bruins decide they want him to stay in Boston, then Johnson would need to clear waivers before getting sent down.
Rask has bailed the Bruins out time and again this season and he did it again Friday night with his 15-save performance in the first period.
"They pretty much had all of their best chances in that first period, and we had five [shots], so that tells you a lot about that period," Rask said. "We weren't skating. We weren't hitting. We weren't as sharp with our passes. We fixed it after the first period and were pretty dominant after that."
The Bruins turned it on and played well in the second and third periods as Rask's teammates supported him both offensively and defensively to help him secure the shutout.
Bruins forward and future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, who scored his 11th goal of the season in the win, witnessed firsthand how good Rask is during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs after Boston swept his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in four games.
Now a member of the Bruins, Iginla appreciates it even more.
"I knew he was really good, but it is nice to have his consistency," Iginla said. "He's always on. He's always focused. Even in practice, he works hard. Before you come in, you know the Bruins are a good organization that works hard on the ice and compete when you play against them, but coming in and getting to see it day in and day out -- there's a reason why he's as good as he is. He works hard every day he comes to the rink, and his consistency has been awesome."
Iginla then took a breath, and finished his thought.
"He's focused and he battles all the time," he said.
12dScott Burnside and Craig Custance