Maple Leafs 2, Bruins 0

Nothing doing for the Bruins

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 20, 2009

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TORONTO - For virtually his entire rookie season, the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask has been a exercise in fluidity.

The 22-year-old (9-2-2, 1.97 goals-against average, .932 save percentage entering last night) has been the NHL’s finest puck-stopping freshman. Rask has performed with purpose, standing tall to make the saves that he should and using his speed and athleticism to turn aside the shots other goalies might not stop. But for a brief moment last night at the Air Canada Centre, Rask committed a rare mental and mechanical flub - one that turned into the only goal the Maple Leafs needed.

From close to the left wall in the second period, Tomas Kaberle floated a shot aimed for Rask’s blocker. But the goalie decided to flash out his glove to stop the puck.

The puck clanged off the edge of Rask’s glove, caromed off his stick, and found its way into the net at 2:24, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead.

“Just a blackout, I guess,’’ Rask (29 saves) said after the 2-0 loss before 19,101 fans.

Rask, the former Leaf (Toronto’s first-round pick in 2005), had owned his previous team. Two seasons ago, in a spot start at the Air Canada Centre, Rask earned his first NHL win in a 4-2 decision. Earlier this month, Rask was between the pipes at TD Garden for a pair of wins over the Leafs.

So it was a surprise last night when the Leafs finally got the best of Rask, while fellow NHL rookie Jonas Gustavsson (25 saves) earned his first career shutout.

At 9:43 of the third period, Rask allowed a second goal. Jason Blake took a pass from Niklas Hagman and elevated a shot over Rask’s glove, just under the crossbar.

The loss, however, could hardly be pegged on Rask.

Gustavsson had good looks on most of the shots that came his way. There were few second chances Gustavsson had to clean up. He didn’t have to battle much traffic in his crease.

“You don’t want to take away credit from a guy who got a shutout,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “But I don’t think we tested him as much as we should have. That’s our fault.’’

Last night, defense should have been the problem. Dennis Wideman (undisclosed injury) and Mark Stuart (broken sternum) were out for the second straight game. They were joined on the shelf by Derek Morris (undisclosed injury). Adam McQuaid played his first NHL game. Andy Wozniewski dressed for only the second time this season.

But for the third straight game against the Leafs, the Bruins, led by Zdeno Chara (26:45 of ice time), kept Phil Kessel off the scoresheet. In 21:46 of ice time, Kessel landed four shots, had four more blocked, and missed the net with two attempts. Chara had help from Andrew Ference (team-leading 28:22 workload) and Johnny Boychuk (career-high 24:14), who had been a healthy scratch for most of the season.

But the glaring issue was the absence of offensive presence, starting with the No. 1 line of Marco Sturm, Marc Savard, and Michael Ryder.

“Defensively, we played well enough to stay in the game,’’ Julien said. “It’s unfortunate. We have guys that are paid to produce and known to produce. As long as they don’t produce, we’re going to be struggling. Somehow we need to get better in that area.

“When you rely on your fourth line to create the most offense, it’s not a good sign for your hockey club.’’

By the end of the night, Sturm, Savard, and Ryder, who are being paid a collective $12.5 million this season, would record just one shot apiece, totaling the number of attempts taken by fourth-line center Vladimir Sobotka. Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi also had only shot each.

The best chances came off the stick of third-line right wing Byron Bitz, both following clever feeds from David Krejci. In the first period, Krejci slipped past Francois Beauchemin and fed Bitz in front. But Bitz winged his shot wide of the net.

In the second period, following another Krejci setup, Bitz had a good look at the goal. But Gustavsson raced out to cut down the angle and stuff Bitz’s attempt.

Other than that, the legless Bruins, who arrived in town at approximately 3 a.m. yesterday morning, applied zero pressure. They went 0 for 3 on the power play, putting only two man-advantage pucks on Gustavsson. The Bruins showed little emotion and even less spunk around the net and in the dirty areas.

“We needed to respond. We didn’t do it,’’ said Steve Begin. “They wanted it more than us. They got the two points. Of course, we weren’t going to win the way we played.’’

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