'Special stage' at Winter Classic shows Tuukka Rask can excel in big games

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'Special stage' at Winter Classic shows Tuukka Rask can excel in big games

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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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

Talking points from Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals at TD Garden . . . 

GOLD STAR: The Bruins wouldn’t have even received a point in Saturday night’s game if it weren’t for the efforts of Jaroslav Halak. The B’s netminder stopped 42 shots and was brilliant from beginning to end against a Capitals team that outshot Boston nearly 2-to-1 through the course of the entire game. He stopped 17-of-18 in the first period when the Bruins didn’t have their legs under them, and would have stolen the game for Boston if Zdeno Chara could have cleared the zone ahead of T.J. Oshie’s game-tying in the final minute of the third period. He was just as good in the shootout, with diving stops that kept the Bruins in the extra session, and certainly deserved a better fate at the end of the day.


BLACK EYE: It’s time for Bruce Cassidy to stop over-thinking the shootout. He tried to use Chris Wagner based on a pretty good breakaway move he’s showed at times, and the thinking there was that perhaps an outside-the-box choice work create a shootout spark for the Bruins. Well, it has not, and instead Charlie Coyle is the only player that’s had success in the shootout this season for the Bruins, who are now 0-for-4 in shootout games. They need to go with a much more straight-ahead shootout philosophy, where they just get their best offensive guys out there quickly. That means having Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as two of your top three guys to start, and perhaps featuring Coyle more now that he’s enjoyed some success. One thing is certain: They need to do something differently, because whatever they’re doing right now isn’t working.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were hanging on by a thread while protecting the one-goal lead in the third period, and were outshot by an 11-6 margin by Washington while they put a ton of pressure on the Boston defense. Jaroslav Halak was up to the challenge for most of the period and the Bruins had a couple of chances to extend the lead, including a David Krejci redirect that went through Braden Holtby’s pads and trickled past the net, but the undermanned Bruins simply ran out of gas when it came to holding their slim lead. With the Bruins missing their best defender in Patrice Bergeron due to injury, T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal with a little less than a minute left to play with Sean Kuraly out on the ice with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. That’s not the ideal shutdown forward crew for the Bruins and it came back to bite them in the end.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak was one of the few Bruins playing with some energy throughout the game, and he scored what looked like was going to be the winning goal a few minutes into the second period. Pastrnak had a monster shift where he kicked things off for David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy to connect for a scoring chance, but McAvoy missed the open net with a one-timer shot from the slot. Pastrnak alertly picked up the puck and fired a bad angle shot for his 17th goal of the season. He was a key piece of offense with the Bruins missing so much of their firepower between Bergeron, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk. Pastrnak finished with the goal, 10 shot attempts and a couple of takeaways in 22:58 of ice time for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-for-4 – The Bruins’ record in the shootout this season. They continue to lose vital points in the glorified skills challenge, with only Coyle seemingly enjoying any success.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He was our best player by far. [It’s] disappointing that we couldn’t finish it because I thought our third period, we really bought into what we needed to compared to the Florida game, for example. We didn’t give up much at all [at the end of the game].” –Bruce Cassidy, on Halak and the improved third period for the Bruins, compared to their collapse against the Panthers a few days ago.

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NHL Highlights: Bruins surrender late lead vs. Capitals, lose 3-2 in shootout

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NHL Highlights: Bruins surrender late lead vs. Capitals, lose 3-2 in shootout

FINAL SCORE: Capitals 3, Bruins 2 (SO)

IN BRIEF: Just when it looked like the Bruins were going to hold on, despite being outshot by a nearly 2-to-1 margin losing another important piece in Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins surrendered a game-tying goal in the last minute of regulation from the Capitals' T.J. Oshie. Braeden Holtby denied Chris Wagner's five-hole attempt in the fifth round of the shootout to steal an 11th-hour comeback win.


BRUINS RECORD: 12-3-5 (28 points)




UP NEXT: at New Jersey, 7 p.m., NESN

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