Just two days after getting pulled in his first appearance in eight games, Rask rebounded with a strong effort in Toronto on Monday. He stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced to lead the Bruins to a 2-1 win over the Leafs to close out a 3-0-2 road trip.
But after practice on Wednesday — the club's first at Ristuccia Arena since the day after Christmas — Rask wasn't trying to make too much out of a single victory.
"It was just one win, you know? Nothing more than that," Rask said. "Obviously, not letting up more than one goal is good for your confidence. I'm just trying to get in that groove and feeling good about yourself. It's just one game, one win, but I have to look at the future now."
It's a future that should include a more equitable distribution of work between Boston's two talented netminders. While Tim Thomas has been outstanding this year, leading the NHL in almost every goaltending category with an 18-4-5 record, 1.80 GAA, .945 save percentage and five shutouts, he can't be expected to keep up such a pace without some time off.
Rask, who led the NHL in GAA and save percentage last season, is more than capable of filling in on a more regular basis but has appeared in just 12 games so far this season. Playing so infrequently is a new experience for Rask, who was the primary starter for his Finnish team and in Providence before coming up to Boston full-time last season. He then quickly unseated Thomas as the Bruins' No. 1 goalie last year and played the bulk of the games down the stretch and every game in the playoffs.
"It's different, and I think everybody has to go through it at some point," Rask said. "In my short career, I haven't sat on the bench that much. This is definitely the most I've ever sat. You have to look for good things, but you can't get satisfied sitting on the bench. You have to work hard and try to find your game and get those wins the team needs."
Rask has been helped by his close relationship with the veteran Thomas and the presence of goalie coach Bob Essensa. Both have been good sounding boards to help him deal with the struggles he's had this season.
"It helps a lot," said Rask, who is just 3-7-1 this season despite a 2.63 GAA and .927 save percentage. "We talk about things with Timmy a lot, and that's another thing. It's always good to have that extra pair of eyes upstairs looking at your game and looking at you in practice, seeing what you do wrong. It's good that [Essensa] comes here every now and then. Him being here every day would maybe be frustrating at times, but it's good to have a guy like him around."
Essensa might have to be careful not to overstay his welcome, but he does play an important role as amateur psychologist to the club's goalies.
"I think at this level, it's more mental preparation and talking about things," Rask said of the help he gets from Essensa. "Every goalie in this league is pretty good technically and there's nothing major you have to work at on that side, but you have to stay sharp mentally and figure things out mentally. That's the bigger thing I think."
Rask admitted that maintaining his confidence has been difficult with his limited playing time this year.
"It's funny how it goes confidence-wise," Rask said. "When you're playing a lot, you're in that groove and you're feeling good about yourself. Then you don't play that much and you shouldn't be feeling bad, but there's nothing you can do about it because you haven't played. You try to find that groove and get on it. That's the challenge, and hopefully, I can find it."
Saturday's start in Buffalo didn't help that cause. Rask finally got his first chance to play since Dec. 15 and was promptly pulled after allowing three goals on 16 shots in the first period. It's a move that obviously still rankles the young netminder.
"I was still up 4-3 when I got pulled," said Rask of the game against the Sabres, which the Bruins eventually lost 7-6 in a shootout. "It wasn't that tough for me to prepare mentally and try to have that bounce-back feeling, but still, you get pulled and you don't want to get pulled twice in a row. You try to earn the trust and earn the win. That's the only thing I was thinking."
Bruins coach Claude Julien will have to trust both of his goalies more as the schedule intensifies in the second half of the season, and Monday's performance should help restore some faith in Rask's ability to deliver when needed.
"I think it's important for everybody," Julien said. "For his sake, I think it was important that he bounce back and have a solid showing and he did. For our team, we've got a lot of games coming and we need both our goaltenders to be at their best and we need to rely on both of them."
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