SUNRISE, Fla. – Tuukka Rask is 5-0-0, and the Bruins have won all five games that Rask has started this season.
The link between Rask playing and the Bruins winning is obviously much more than a coincidence, and it was proved it again on Tuesday night as he made 33 saves in the 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers. Those numbers help to continue Rask’s run in the top-3 of the NHL in goals against average and save percentage this season, and paint the picture of a Bruins goalie that was ready to face the challenge this season.
Rask had to be ready considering last season’s subpar performance and some of the limitations on Boston’s current roster, and in a nice turnaround he’s consistently been Boston’s best player just about every time he’s been on the ice this season.
“I felt good all along probably because of the chances we gave up. I had to make more saves, but I felt good all along,” said Rask, who now has a 1.20 goals against average and a .961 save percentage through five games this season. “But after the first period we shut down the backdoor plays and blocked a lot of shots, so that really helps a lot. As long as I can see the puck I try to make the save, and I have a better chance of making the save.
“The [penalty kill] all night was very good keeping shots to the outside, and really keeping it all to the outside. It’s the patience from the forwards and good play reads by the D-men in front of me, so that’s great.”
While the Bruins are still figuring things out with their systems work and persevering with an undermanned lineup including David Backes and David Pastrnak missing against the Panthers, Rask was covering for all those B’s flaws and imperfections during the key early and late moments that went into the victory. The B’s netminder was perhaps at his best early in the game while his teammates were getting badly outshot by a 13-3 margin.
The Bruins scored first and picked things up in the second period, but Rask again needed to be nearly flawless while stopping 13-of-14 shots in the third period while the desperate Panthers began throwing everything at the net. Some of it was about shot blockers stepping in front of pucks destined for the net, but just as much it was about Rask refusing to lose any ground against a tough divisional opponent while protecting a one goal lead.
“Somehow we got great goaltending in the first period. We had so many turnovers. It was a really start and our puck management was poor,” said Claude Julien. “It was one of those starts that we’re trying to avoid, but we had a goaltender that was ready to play. He certainly kept us in there, and then we regrouped in the second period and were much better in the second period.”
Now the Bruins hope Rask reports to Wednesday practice in Tampa in full, good health, and that his run of dominant play this season perhaps finally shuts down the hot take brigade that have been looking to trade the B’s No. 1 goaltender for the last couple of years. Rask isn’t going anywhere except to continue stopping pucks for the Bruins just like he did 33 times against the Panthers on Tuesday night.