BOSTON — Tuukka Rask waited patiently for almost two weeks for another shot between the pipes.
Then he had to wait through most of the first period before he was truly tested Thursday night against the New York Islanders.
It wasn't the best recipe for success, as the rusty goaltender didn't have much of a chance to get into a rhythm as the Bruins outshot the Isles 16-7 in the first period. But New York made up for lost time after the first intermission, pouring 17 shots on Rask in the second and 11 more in the third.
Rask, who last started in a 4-1 loss at Atlanta back on Nov. 28, stood up to the challenge though, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced to lead Boston to a 5-2 victory.
"It's never easy, no matter how much you play," said Rask of not seeing many shots early after such a long layoff. "But it's the same thing every time. You've just got to stay sharp and stay focused. That's the biggest challenge for you."
Rask has faced the challenge of staying focused all season. After winning the No. 1 job last season and leading the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, he's been forced to sit and watch most of the games this year while Tim Thomas has reestablished himself as one of the game's elite netminders.
With Thomas off to a historic start to the season, Rask had played just eight games before Thursday, and won just one of them. That changed with his performance against the Islanders, and he was very appreciative of the victory, even if it came against a club that has now lost 11 straight on the road.
"It's a great win," said Rask. "I think it's never easy to play against these kind of teams who are kind of struggling in their game. The guys did a really good job right from the hop just to jump in after them and get that lead. It's nice to be able to get that win too because I don't have too many of those yet."
The Bruins were also glad to see Rask get the win, as they know they haven't always turned in their best performances in front of him this season.
"Yeah, he's played great in every game that he's been in," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who scored a key short-handed goal late in the second period. "We really haven't stood behind him in a lot of those games and played our best, but tonight I thought we played a pretty good 60 minutes. Tuukka played an unbelievably good game. A lot of big saves at the right time."
Bruins coach Claude Julien hopes that Rask can build off this win and that his club will continue to give him the support he deserves when Rask is in the net.
"He was better," said Julien. "I think the guys played much better in front of him as well. I know that in some games he didn't win, we certainly didn't make it easy on him. We didn't necessarily play very well in front of him. We had that situation happen which made him have a loss in the loss column, but at the same time, we've seen Tuukka when he's at his best. I'm not going to say he's there now, but hopefully tonight is a step in the right direction."
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