Tuukka Rask didn’t play a minute of Tuesday’s game in Calgary, but he certainly played a big role in the Bruins’ 3-1 victory.
Rask gave Bruins goalie Tim Thomas a much-needed rest last week, as Rask came through with strong efforts in back-to-back wins over the Islanders and Senators. With a refreshed Thomas back between the pipes on Tuesday, the Bruins did what few teams have been able to do of late, and finally cooled the red-hot Flames.
Thomas stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced as Calgary lost in regulation for the just the second time in its last 15 games.
“Definitely, I felt a lot of the jump that I felt earlier this year,” Thomas said when asked if the time off had been beneficial. “I felt better than I had in a while.”
Thomas came into the game still leading the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, but he had been showing signs of wearing down. He’d allowed 14 goals in his previous three starts as his GAA crept over 2.00 for the first time this season.
But with a week off since his last start, Thomas was back in his Vezina form on Tuesday, leaving plenty of Flames shaking their heads in dismay at his highlight-reel saves.
“He was sharp, he was really sharp tonight,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “He seemed to have some good energy and that’s what we were looking for.”
The overall effort was just what the Bruins were looking for was they resumed their season-high six-game road trip in Calgary. The Bruins struck early when Adam McQuaid caught the Flames in a sloppy line change, getting the puck up to David Krejci, who in turn found Milan Lucic in front for a goal just 59 seconds into play.
It remained that way until Brad Marchand added another goal in the third. Thomas lost his shutout bid with 2:33 left when Curtis Glencross scored on a power play, but Lucic added his league-leading fifth empty-net goal to lock down the victory.
“We wanted to get off on a right foot,” Julien said. “We know that tonight’s game against a team that’s only lost one game in regulation in the last 10 was going to be a tough challenge. We also know going to Vancouver is going to be a tough challenge. So this is a good road trip for us and a good measuring stick for our hockey club.”
The Bruins are off until facing the Western Conference-leading Canucks on Saturday. That will give them a few more days to bond with newly-acquired forwards Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly and defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
“It was a good, tough road win,” Thomas said. “It was a tight game the whole way through and we need to learn to play like that, especially heading toward the playoffs. And it’s good to have those new guys in the lineup so they could be a part of it.”
While they’re still getting to know each other off the ice, the Bruins have already gotten an idea of what the newcomers can bring to the team on the ice. Peverley and Kelly didn’t factor in the scoring, but Peverley flashed some impressive speed to create chances and Kelly contributed in both ends and won some key draws. Kaberle led the Bruins in ice time, logging 22:51 and finishing a plus-1 with four blocked shots.
“I thought our third line was a real strong line for us,” Julien said. “Kelly and Peverley and [Michael] Ryder, it just seemed like they were a really reliable line. And obviously Tomas Kaberle has been a real mainstay on the back end. He’s so smart and poised and makes great plays, so he really settled things down back there.”
Still, the real difference in this one was a familiar face, as Thomas was back to doing what he’s been doing throughout his spectacular season. And that was more than enough, even if Thomas didn’t get to add another shutout to his tally.
“The one thought that did cross my mind is how hard it is to get shutouts sometimes,” Thomas said of allowing the late goal. “The whole 60 minutes is hard to get through. It was 2-1, so I was just trying to keep the same focus I had all game and not overthink anything, just try to stop every one I could.”
Thomas stopped more than enough, and he’ll get a chance to stop even more on Saturday in Vancouver. Shutouts against the Canucks haven’t been as tough to come by. He’s yet to give up a goal against Vancouver, blanking the Canucks both times he’s faced them. With a few more days of rest, he might just be ready for another shutout.