Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins 3, Blues 1: Tuukka Rask continues to make game-changing stops

Ty Anderson
February 01, 2018 - 11:22 pm

It would have been easy for the Bruins, who saw their 18-game point streak come to an end in their last outing (a 3-1 loss to the Ducks), begin to spiral out of control against a similarly-built Blues team on Thursday night.

And the frustration of a 22-shot-but-goalless second period certainly could have weighed on the Bruins, then clinging to a 1-0 lead, in the early stages of the third period.

But when Tuukka Rask flashed the glove for an utterly ridiculous stop on the Blues’ Jaden Schwartz just 1:45 into the third period in what was a clear statement save, you could tell that there was tangible energy found in front of him.

“You need a big save during the game and he made those, so obviously that’s a big difference in the game,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara remarked. “So he was our best player tonight and for a reason. He made some big saves and that was one of them.”

Knowing Rask’s game was where it’s been since December (Rask finished the night with stops on 32 of 33 shots), the B’s carried the energy of his big stop into a power-play dagger courtesy of Patrice Bergeron, scored at the 9:05 mark of the third, and added an empty-net buzzer-beater from David Backes en route to their 3-1 final at TD Garden.

“Well, I think this team has always been confident in Tuukka, especially lately,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team has captured points in 19 of their last 20 games, said after the win. “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, and he wanted to match the other guy. I think any team will play better when they know their goaltender has their back, and Tuukka certainly had that.

“And so has Anton Khudobin,” Cassidy continued. “We talked about it. Anton has been very good for us, and we’ve been fortunate for the last stretch of – I don’t know, since mid whatever it was – November, to have stellar goaltending.”

But to suggest that Cassidy and the Bruins have found a way to manage the 30-year-old Rask perfectly would be an understatement, all things considered.

By all means revived from the dead after what was a horrendous start to the season, Rask has now performed at a Vezina-level for over two months straight. Since his season-changing win over the East-best Lightning on Nov. 29, a game in which Rask made 19 saves on 21 shots against, he’s posted a 17-0-2 record.

(The dude hasn’t lost in regulation since Nov. 26. Three days after Thanksgiving!)

The wins are obviously the most in the NHL over that span (there’s a four-way tie for the second-most, none of whom have more than 13 victories). His .941 save percentage is the second-best among starters (Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury has posted an impressive .946 over that span), and Rask’s 1.62 goals against average is just a single point shy of Fleury’s league-best 1.61 mark. But to truly put Rask’s positive impact on the B's into perspective, take the three goaltenders right ahead of him in ice-time as well as the three goaltenders directly beneath him in ice-time, and you’re talking about an average of 51 goals against. Rask, meanwhile, has surrendered just 32 goals in 1,186 minutes and change.

The minutes are the major focus, too, as the Bruins have by and large found a way to avoid burning out the second-most expensive piece of their roster before necessary.

“A lot of it is team play like how your team plays in front of you,” Rask acknowledged. “Lately 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 and we’re no different.  We try to be there when the time comes and we have to make those saves and that’s it.”

With the win -- and again, without a regulation loss since November -- Rask extended his personal point streak to a staggering 19 games. That is the fourth-longest streak by a B’s goaltender in team history, behind Gerry Cheevers (32 games in 1971-72), Pete Peeters (31 games in 1982-83), and Frank Brimsek (23 games in 1940-41).

And look to have their ace in the crease back to his near-unbeatable ways.

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