BOSTON — Tuukka Rask has owned the New York Islanders this season.
The Bruins goaltender went 2-0-0 with 82 saves on 85 shots for a .965 save percentage in two starts against the Long Island club, helping Boston take the season series 2-1-0. His latest effort was a 39-save performance in a 2-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night at TD Garden.
“He’s in a zone. He’s just been really good for us, focused and even intense,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “He’s not afraid to yell at the players around him if they aren’t doing their jobs, and you know, he’s just been a determined athlete in this last little while and it’s made a big difference for our hockey team.”
Rask has been the NHL’s best goaltender since the calendar turned to 2015. He’s 8-2-3 with a .948 save percentage in 13 starts since the beginning of January and has given up more than two goals in just one of his last eight games.
Rask also has been among the primary factors behind Boston’s much-improved penalty kill since Jan. 1. The Bruins did allow a power-play goal to Islanders captain John Tavares in the first period Saturday — ending a streak of 16 straight successful penalty kills — but Rask’s shorthanded save percentage entering Saturday was .973, which is the NHL’s best mark since January. Boston is 45-for-49 on the penalty kill in the 14 games in the New Year.
The next challenge for Rask could come Sunday night, when the rival Montreal Canadiens come to the Garden for their final regular-season meeting with the B’s. Rask has struggled throughout his career versus the Habs and is 0-2-0 with a 3.99 goals against average and a .848 save percentage against them this campaign.
Rask was asked if he’ll start Sunday and said no one has told him otherwise. Julien wouldn’t confirm which goaltender will start.
If Rask does oppose Montreal, it will be the fifth time he’s played both games of a back-to-back this season. He’s 0-2-2 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA in the second game of a back-to-back, which includes an Oct. 16 loss to the Habs in which he gave up five goals and was pulled in the third period. He played in five of those situations last season and posted a .930 save percentage and a 2.26 GAA.
Rask needs to start against the Canadiens because he’s going to be in net if these teams meet in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. The only way for him to overcome his struggles against the Canadiens is to play them and perform at a high level. The Eastern Conference is wide open this season and Montreal is the only team that could give the Bruins lots of trouble in a seven-game series.
“It’s always a big game against them because you know, wherever you go in Boston when the Habs are coming to town, it’s a big game, but we don’t really think of it as any bigger game than usual,” Rask said.
“We try to approach it as any other game, but the fact is that we haven’t been able to beat them that many times in the past and we have to change this because another fact is that we’re most likely going to play them in the playoffs this year, so we have to learn to play against them.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images