SOUTH BEND, Indiana – Tuukka Rask often gets criticized for not showing up biggest in the big games for the Boston Bruins, so credit where it’s due when the goaltender steps up on a big stage. Rask did exactly that on Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Classic when he stopped 36 shots and stood tall against the Chicago Blackhawks in leading the B’s to a 4-2 win over the Hawks at Notre Dame Stadium.
It didn’t exactly erase the memory of just how shaky Rask was in last spring’s Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it did rekindle hope that the Bruins netminder can find some mastery within his big game performances.
“It’s a special stage. For me as a goalie you just always try to approach a game like it’s every other game. That was my third [Winter Classic] that I got to be a part of, and the second one that I played in,” said Rask, who evened his career record in Winter Classic games after getting the loss at Gillette Stadium a couple of years ago. “It was nice to get the win too. I think these are the experiences that when you’re done with your hockey career that you can look back and be happy that you’re a part of and cherish those moments. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of three of these games.”
Rask was at his best in the second period when he stopped 15 shots while the ice was seemingly titled in favor of Chicago for nearly the entire period, but his biggest stop was at the end of the first period in a tied hockey game. In the closing seconds of the period, Patrick Kane broke free on the outdoor ice for a breakaway chance with Rask as the last line of defense.
Rask stepped up and shut down Kane on the scoring attempt, and kept the Blackhawks off the board in the kind of gut-punch score that could have changed the momentum in the game if it had somehow leaked into the B’s net. He was beaten in the second period on a tipped puck from high in the slot, but that was it for Rask as he went into shutdown mode for the rest of the game while Boston pulled away in the final 20 minutes.
It was the kind of performance that rewarded Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy for putting Boston’s longtime No. 1 into the big game, rather than going with Jaroslav Halak after he arguably had a better first half of the season for the Bruins.
“He played well. We couldn’t go wrong because it’s an area of strength for us, so we win either way,” said Cassidy. “Tuukka has now strung together a couple of solid wins. I thought we were good in front of him in spots and in the second period it got away from us and he made some big saves.
“At the end of the first against Kane [he made a big stop]. So I was happy for him. We want to get him into a rhythm where he’s playing well and giving us a good chance to win every night. That’s two in a row, so now he can build off that.”
With the win, Rask is now 10-8-2 with a 2.63 goals against average and .914 save percentage on the season and it once again seems like he’s on the upswing with his play after a brutal final start prior to the Christmas break. The Finnish netminder also appears to be on the upswing in big game performances as well after stepping up and playing one of his best games of the season on the NHL’s biggest regular season state in the Winter Classic.
Now Rask merely needs to carry that over into the last few months of the regular season and playoffs were a performance like Tuesday’s could make the Bruins a much more dangerous hockey club down the stretch.
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