Commentary

Tuukka Rask gets back in swing

Updated: October 10, 2011, 8:10 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The chants of "Tuuk-ka, Tuuk-ka, Tuuk-ka" had not been heard at TD Garden since April 2.

That was the last time Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask played a home game, because fellow netminder Tim Thomas was on top of his game last season, leading the club to a Stanley Cup title.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Steve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesIn his first home game since April 2, Tuukka Rask made 35 saves but was saddled with the loss.

Bruins coach Claude Julien decided to give Thomas the nod in the first two games this season, against the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and he posted a loss and a win. With the Colorado Avalanche in town for a matinee on Columbus Day, Rask got the call and suffered a 1-0 loss in a game in which he played well (35 saves) but received no contributions from his teammates.

"He's probably the only bright light on this game today," Julien said. "Had it not been for him, this game probably would have been over much sooner than it was. He kept us in there and gave us a chance. We didn't respond."

Rask posted an 11-14-2 record in 2010-11 along with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. His last regular-season action came April 10 at New Jersey, and although he played in two exhibition games last month, he admitted he was a bit jittery prior to Monday's game and told Thomas he felt nervous because it was his first real game in almost six months.

"I haven't played in a long time in a real situation, so I felt kind of weird before the game," Rask said. "Once the puck dropped and I got into that groove, I felt pretty good.

"It's not the greatest I've ever felt, but still, for the first game in a long time, I felt pretty good. I had plenty of saves and only one goal, so I guess you can look at it in a good way despite the loss."

Rask did look good. He flashed his pads and made the timely saves. He was challenged early and often, and that helped him settle in quickly.

Early in the first period, the Avalanche had a two-man advantage for 27 seconds and Colorado sustained offensive pressure. When the Avalanche created a quality chance, Rask was square to the puck and kept it out of the net. He also received some help from a goalie's best friend, the post, during Colorado's power-play flurry as the Avs' Paul Stastny narrowly snuck one past Rask.

"It's never good when you go down two men, but if you survive that with no goals against, you gain that confidence and you start to feel good," Rask said.

After a scoreless second period, Colorado produced another quality scoring chance when Chuck Kobasew gained control and unleashed a shot from the right faceoff circle. Rask came out to challenge and flashed a right-pad save to keep the game scoreless.

As good as he was, Rask couldn't keep the Avalanche off the board all game. Colorado's Milan Hejduk scored the lone goal at 7:57 of the third period.

"I was screened, but I saw the shot going where I thought it was going," Rask said. "It just deflected off something and went in."

That something was the leg of teammate Zdeno Chara.

"Tuukka was really solid. He made some big saves for us," Chara said. "It was a lucky bounce. It hit my shin pad and deflected off my leg, so it was kind of a bad break, but at the same time, [Colorado] deserved [the win]."

It's no secret goalies are superstitious, so it's a safe bet Rask will ask the Garden's game-day production crew not to show his save highlights on the video board when he has a shutout going. During a timeout prior to Colorado's goal, Little Richard's classic song "Keep A Knockin'" was playing along with the highlights.

Within seconds of the ensuing faceoff, Hejduk scored.

"They have to stop doing that, I guess," Rask said with a laugh. "It doesn't matter."

Rask suffered a similar loss to the Avalanche on Columbus Day during the 2009-10 season, as the Bruins lost 4-3 and Rask made 17 saves.

"I was thinking about that before the game," Rask said. "It wasn't one of my best games, but you don't want to think about those when you're going into a game, especially against the same team."

Numerous times last season, Rask was on the receiving end of a result similar to Monday's. He would play well and keep Boston in the game but wouldn't receive much offensive support and would be held out to dry.

"That's what happened, right? Wins matter, so it doesn't matter if you lose 10-0 or 1-0, it's still a loss," Rask said. "We definitely didn't play our full 60-minute effort today, that's for sure."

Rask knows this type of loss will happen throughout the course of a season, so he's not concerned about last season's trend repeating itself.

"He played great, and you can't ask for much more than how he played today," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "He kept us in it the whole night and gave us a chance to win it. We weren't able to do anything for him on the other end."

Julien has said time and again that the Bruins have two No. 1 goaltenders, and that Rask will be relied on a lot more this season than he was last season. If he can play the way he did Monday after such a long layoff from competitive hockey, those "Tuuk-ka" chants should continue for a long time.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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