Rask puts a stop to Bruins’ losing ways
MONTREAL - As expected, Year One of Tuukka Rask’s NHL career has been a tale of caution. With far too much evidence, starting from the early demise of Hannu Toivonen, of the woes that come from fast-tracking young goaltenders, the Bruins have practiced patience with Rask, feeding the 22-year-old just enough playing time to keep him from going soft.
But with results at a premium and a hot goalie desperately required, the Bruins have recognized that now, amid a season-altering slump, is no time to continue treating Rask like a rookie.
Before 21,273 at the Bell Centre yesterday, for the first time since playing in six straight in November when Tim Thomas was shelved because of a hand injury, Rask made his third consecutive start. By backstopping the Bruins to a 3-0 victory, Rask halted the team’s 10-game winless streak and proved that he’ll be back between the pipes tomorrow against Buffalo.
“We’ve been looking at the way he’s played, and technically, he’s been pretty sound,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Even those last two games, he got us a point. The reason we didn’t get two points is because we didn’t do our job offensively. He’s been good.
“Right now, we’re at a stage where you’ve got to go with the goalie that’s playing the best. I think right now, he’s playing the best. We know what Tim [Thomas] can do. Tim will be there at some point. There’s no doubt. But right now, I think Tuukka’s done a pretty good job.’’
At the other end, the Bruins solved Jaroslav Halak, who had stopped 45 of 47 Boston shots three days earlier at TD Garden. Adam McQuaid provided the winning strike at 17:32 of the first period when he netted his first NHL goal. After Marc Savard sent the puck out to the point, McQuaid let loose a slapper that ticked off the stick of Canadiens forward Ryan White and into the net.
“I walked to the middle and there was no shooting lane, so I tried to shoot for a tip,’’ McQuaid said. “Luckily it went off one of their players and in. I’ll take it.’’
Marco Sturm made it 2-0 when he scored with 3.2 ticks remaining in the first. Halak had stopped a Zdeno Chara attempt, but Sturm, freed in the high slot when Andrei Markov released to throw a hit on Mark Recchi in the low slot, buried the rebound. At 9:49 of the third, Sturm tacked on another when his wrister deflected off Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges and into the net, putting to bed any fear that the Bruins would blow yet another two-goal cushion.
“We had played so well in the last four or five games that we felt cheated, in a way, that we played well enough to win and weren’t getting rewarded with it,’’ Julien said. “It’s a matter of sticking with it. You hope that at one point that you get a break and things turn for you. We did get some breaks. Our goaltender was outstanding. We had good traffic for tip-ins. That goal at the end of the first was a real important one for us.’’
The game, however, rested on the pads, glove, blocker, and coolness of Rask, who was coming off a pair of hard-luck shootout losses to Vancouver and Montreal. While the Bruins’ primary affliction during their swoon of the last month has been a lack of finishing touch, neither of their goalies, given chance after chance, had emerged to serve as a game-saving presence.
It’s been a different story the last three games, when Rask has helped the Bruins gain four precious points.
In the first, Rask kicked out 10 shots, giving the Canadiens little to shoot at low. In the third, when the Bruins have allowed far too many leads to slip through their gloved fingers, Rask turned aside 11 attempts.
Rask’s best work, however, came amid a firestorm of a second period when the Canadiens threatened to blow the Bruins’ doors off. While the Bruins put only three pucks on Halak, the Canadiens poured 15 shots on goal, including six off the stick of Tomas Plekanec. Rask shrugged them all off, mixing his levelheaded positioning with when-called-for acrobatics.
“They got some good chances in the second, but we defended well and I happened to make a couple saves,’’ said Rask.
Rask was at his best when foiling Plekanec, Montreal’s point-per-game center. At 9:42 of the second, when the Canadiens turned an odd-man rush into a slot snapper by Plekanec, Rask kept the Bruins’ lead intact by closing his glove on the center’s bid.
Less than two minutes later, when a blocked shot allowed the Canadiens to spring Plekanec for a partial breakaway, Rask stared down the challenge. With McQuaid hustling back to apply pressure, Plekanec had to hurry his shot. Plekanec’s shot thudded off Rask an instant before McQuaid, unable to slam on the brakes, took out his goalie and dislodged the net.
“I think he felt that, too,’’ Rask said of McQuaid’s backcheck on Plekanec. “I wasn’t too deep in my net. So I held my ground there and it hit my skate or pad.’’
After the win, for the first time in more than three weeks, the Bruins enjoyed some celebratory high-volume tunes. It’s a good bet that Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice’’ never has pulsed so loudly in the Bell Centre’s visiting dressing room.