BOSTON — It seemed destined to be a night of frustration for the Bruins. Facing the second half of a back-to-back after playing a night before in Buffalo, the B’s returned to Boston to take on the NHL’s best team in the San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks waited for the Bruins as they had been in Boston since Wednesday just sitting and waiting to hit the TD Garden ice against the Bruins. And when the puck finally dropped, the Sharks attacked.
San Jose came right after the Bruins. Their fast-paced, puck-possessive play only accentuated the fact that the Bruins had just played another emotion-filled tilt against the Sabres less than 24 hours earlier. However, the Bruins were lucky enough to have Tuukka Rask, one of the two B’s in the lineup Thursday night who didn’t play the night before in Buffalo.
Rask withstood every shot he faced in the first period — all 16 of them — and made sure that the Bruins went to the room for the first intermission with the game tied. That was only the beginning as Rask went on to make 38 saves, just enough for the Bruins to score on a David Krejci tip-in with 0.8 seconds to play to hand the Sharks their first regulation loss of the season.
“They had a great game plan and Tuukka just stood tall and kept us in the game,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
Rask kept the Bruins in the game long enough to score the game’s first goal, an improbable proposition for anyone who watched the first period. Jarome Iginla’s goal in the final minutes of the second period — his first with the Bruins — was validation of the work Rask had done up until that point.
“So we managed to score that first goal, I thought our second period was a little better after we found our legs,” Julien said. “So overall, it becomes one of those things where you enjoy the fact that your team found a way to win and never quit. So I’m not going to stand here and say we were the better team tonight but we were the team that won.”
This was Rask’s most impressive performance so far on the young seasons that’s included a handful of dominant showings already. With the near-shutout, Rask has lowered his goals against average to a microscopic 1.26 to go along with an eye-popping .957 save percentage.
“It’s up there probably [with his best performances this season],” Rask admitted after the game. “I thought they had some really good chances; yeah, probably up there.”
The numbers are nice, and they certainly tell the story pretty well. But they don’t tell the entire story. On a night where the Bruins were far from their best and far from fresh, they found a way to win, thanks in large part to Rask’s play. He was their way to win more than anything else.
“You love challenges as a goalie; you want to challenge yourself every day and every game, and push yourself, and that’s about it,” Rask said.
Simple enough, right? The Bruins re-established themselves as one of the game’s best teams, as handing a team like San Jose its first loss in regulation is noteworthy, no matter how you get it done. Boston has now won four straight and is coming into its own. As a team, however, they’re still playing catch-up when it comes to matching Rask’s contributions.
“Without Tuukka [Rask] playing the way that he has — what does he have, 11 goals against in eight games?” Milan Lucic wondered aloud.
“That’s why he gets paid the big bucks and that’s why I think he’s been our MVP this far.”