This season, just having a Boston netminder in first might not be enough. The Bruins are determined to put a stranglehold on the top two spots.
After another stellar performance by Tuukka Rask Wednesday night in Phoenix, the Bruins are well on their way to doing just that.
Rask had his shutout streak snapped at 170 minutes, 26 seconds when Ray Whitney scored at 15:16 of the first period, but that was all the Coyotes would get against Rask, as the Bruins took a 2-1 win in overtime and regained the top spot in the Eastern Conference with their seventh straight win.
“Tuukka was good,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “He made some big saves for us at the right times. So did their goaltender [Jason LaBarbera]. He let in that first goal, but then stood tall on some opportunities like [Brad] Marchand‘s breakaway. So both goaltenders had opportunities to win the game for their team and Tuukka was in my mind outstanding tonight.”
Marchand was denied a bid in alone off a feed from Tyler Seguin, but Rask had to make an even more impressive stop late in the second period when Phoenix had the lone power-play chance of the game. Whitney had a chance for his second goal of the night when he broke in alone, only to be robbed by Rask as he sprawled for a toe save at the right post.
“Breakaways are always tough and he’s obviously a pretty sneaky goal-scorer, as we saw in the first when he snuck that one by me,” Rask said. “So I think you can say that [breakaway in the second] was the toughest one.”
Rask didn’t have to make a lot of saves with Phoenix managing just 22 shots on the night, but he did have to make some quality saves. And seeing sporadic bids like that can often be tougher than getting into a rhythm with a heavier workload.
“I didn’t have that many shots,” Rask said. “Only 22 or something, but they had some good chances there. It’s kind of a mental grind when you don’t get that many shots. You just try to stay sharp throughout the 60 minutes and today was one of those games.”
There have been a lot of days like that for Rask this year. With Wednesday’s effort, he now leads the NHL in both goals-against average (1.61) and save percentage (.945), while posting an 8-4-1 record with a pair of shutouts. That has him just barely ahead of his own teammate, though, as Tim Thomas is showing no signs of slipping from his all-world form either. Thomas is second in save percentage at .943 and third in GAA at 1.84 with a 16-5-0 record and four shutouts.
“He was outstanding,” Julien said of Rask. “There’s no doubt he kept us in there when we faltered and I think he made some unbelievable saves. … That’s so nice to see that we have both goaltenders coming up big for us. It’s been a real big help.”
It’s also nothing new for either of them. Thomas led the NHL in both GAA (2.10) and save percentage (.933) en route to the Vezina in 2008-09, then won it again with a league-best 2.00 GAA and an NHL record .938 save percentage last year, before bettering both numbers in the playoffs to earn the Conn Smythe. In between those campaigns, Rask supplanted him as the starter in 2009-10 and proceeded to lead the league with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage.
“We’ve seen that before,” Julien said. “He took over a couple years ago because he was playing that way. He’s capable of giving us that kind of game. All he needed was a little playing time and he got that and now he’s making the most of it.”
And the Bruins are making the most of their netminder’s outstanding play, which has enabled them to find ways to win even on nights like Wednesday when they don’t bring their best effort.
“We didn’t have our legs for the entire 60 minutes, but Tuuks gave us an opportunity to stick around and stay in the game and we found a way to get the two points,” forward Chris Kelly said. “It’s one of those games where we’re not scoring eight goals like we did before. We had to work the entire 60 minutes plus.”
That work is a heck of a lot easier when you have goaltenders like Thomas and Rask playing behind you.