BOSTON – One sure sign that a goaltender is going well is when he ends up winning epic duels between puck-stoppers. That’s just where Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask finds himself midway through the season.
Rask improved to a personal-best, 19-game point streak in Boston’s 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. He stopped 32 shots while staring down Jake Allen performing his own miracles at the other end of the ice. The Bruins No. 1 goalie is 17-0-2 over those 19 games and is fourth-best all-time in point streaks for a B's goalie, behind only the legendary Gerry Cheevers (32 games in 1971-72), Pete Peeters (31 games in 1982-83) and Frank Brimsek (23 games in 1940-41).
Perhaps his best arrived in the third period when Rask kicked away a long point shot, and then managed to go post-to-post for the big glove save on Jaden Schwartz bearing down with a backhanded rebound attempt. It was still a one-goal game at that point, and even one fault in Rask’s game could have messed things up for the Black and Gold.
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As he’s been for much of the past three months, Rask was up to the task.
“I think this team has always been confident in Tuukka, especially lately,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Those key saves late in the second period – I thought we did a really good job keeping it clean in front of him for the most part – but those were two big saves. He wanted to match the other guy because I thought the other guy…it was good goaltending tonight.
“I think any team will play better when they know their goaltender has their back, and Tuukka certainly had that, as well as Anton [Khudobin]. We talked about it. Anton has been very good for us, and we’ve been fortunate, for the last stretch since mid whatever it was…November, to have stellar goaltending.”
Certainly, the numbers back it up. The Bruins goalies are fifth in the NHL with a .918 save percentage this season and are currently the favorites to walk away with the Jennings Trophy at the end of the season with a 2.41 goals-against average. Clearly, the Bruins put forth one of their best efforts on Thursday night to respond to what the Blues brought to the table with a big, strong and heavy attack, but Rask was equally locked in while watching Allen stop 43 of 45 shots at the other end of the ice.
“Allen played a great game, a lot of good saves that kept them in it. You just know when it’s a one-goal game you know at some point there’s going to be a chance, you try to make that save,” said Rask, who is tied for sixth in the NHL with a .924 save percentage and ranks third with a 2.12 GAA. “You know maybe today came in the third period and then after that, we extended the lead, and you just try to keep it tight at all times.
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“A lot of it is team play like how your team plays in front of you. Lately, as goalies, we haven’t had to stand on our heads and play unbelievable games to keep us in it. Our team is playing great hockey offensively, defensively and all around. I think it helps everybody. Everybody feels more confident, and everybody is trying to pick each other up all the time. We’re no different.”
There’s no telling how long Rask can keep his point streak going with his strong play combined with a consistent 200-foot team in front of him, but it could be awhile given that he’s also well-rested because of how good Anton Khudobin was in the first half of the season. Things are lining up perfectly for Rask and the Bruins, so perhaps we’ll finally get to see just how good he can be as a No. 1 goalie at the time when the B's will really need him in the spring.
That being said, it was a playoff-style game vs. St. Louis on Thursday night and a playoff-style performance from Rask that should leave some enthusiasm for what’s in store a couple of months from now.