BOSTON — Tuukka Rask never lost his confidence.
Sure, things have looked bleak on occasion for the Boston Bruins goaltender this season, but at no point — in his eyes, at least — was he a lost cause.
So, when Rask was named Boston’s starter Wednesday against the NHL’s best team in the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was ready. And despite entering with a 4-8-2 record and a .899 save percentage — coming off a 4-2 loss to a dreadful Edmonton Oilers team, no less — he did what he needed to do to help the Bruins get a big 3-2 win over the Bolts at TD Garden.
“It’s great, it’s awesome. I needed that one,” Rask said after the game. “Some days you feel better than other days, but the confidence is always there, you try to build it in practice and focus on doing the right things in games. Just keep it simple.”
The 30-year-old netminder made 19 saves on 21 shots in his first win since Nov. 6, with nine of those shots coming his way in the third period. Equally as important as his saves were sound decisions he made to alleviate some goal scoring opportunities for Tampa.
For example, in the game’s final stages, a puck was loose a few feet in front of Rask’s crease when Lightning center Cedric Paquette came crashing in. With both the puck and attacker right on the doorstep, Rask lunged out of his crease, wrapped his stick around Paquette and smacked the puck out to the side boards.
Had Rask elected to stay in his net and brace for the shot, Paquette could have had a scoring chance right in front of the net. As a whole, Rask’s had a solid night — nothing incredible, but certainly what he and the Bruins needed at that moment. And those types of confident decisions helped him get the job done.
“(Rask) played awesome,” Brad Marchand said. “Even the goals he allowed he couldn’t really do anything on. He had a great game and really kept us in it, especially late there. They had a couple of good chances, made a big push and (Tuukka) did a good job keeping us in it.”
Of course, it also helped that Boston played much better in front of him than it did against Edmonton. The B’s made fewer mental gaffes, and their defense did a much better job at smothering the potential scoring threats.
“Yeah it was huge,” blue-liner Torey Krug said of getting the win for Rask. “Obviously, we played a pretty good game in front of him, but they’re one of the best offensive teams in the league. They’re in first place for a reason, so they had their push and they got their chances. When they did, (Rask) made a lot of great saves. he definitely kept us in there at times when they were making their push, and great job by him.”
Head coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to start Rask wasn’t exactly a no-brainer. Anton Khudobin has played lights out this season at 7-0-2 with a .932 save percentage, and given Rask’s struggles Sunday, it’s plausible Khudobin could have gotten the call Wednesday.
Yet just like Rask’s confidence in himself, the rest of the B’s know they can trust him, as well.
“Oh man, he was awesome,” Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “We believe in him so much. You can ask any guy on this team, we believe in Tuukka Rask.”
Rask likely will continue to split time with Khudobin, as Cassidy has made clear he prefers utilizing two goalies. But Wednesday certainly was an important night for the B’s goalie.