BOSTON -- No longer in the shadows of Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask began his tenure as the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender on Saturday night.
It's not the first time he's been the team's go-to 'tender. He got the nod over Thomas down the stretch the season before Thomas' heroic Stanley Cup run. So it's not as if being a No. 1 in the NHL -- or even for the Bruins -- was something new.
What was new was the dynamic that was Thomas' non-existence inside the TD Garden on Saturday night as Rask made 20 saves and allowed just one goal in Boston's 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in the season-opener.
This is Rask's job now. He's the top dog in net for the Bruins. And he played like it on Saturday, showing up the reigning Vezina Trophy winner -- Henrik Lundqvist in the process.
"I felt good throughout the game," said Rask after the win. "The guys made my job so easy because I saw pretty much everything."
That wasn't the case in the team's only exhibition tune-up before the shortened, lockout-plagued season began.
Rask allowed six goals on Tuesday night to Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. Most admitted that the defense in front of him just wasn't very good.
On Saturday night, the Bruins' defense made big-time improvements, helping Rask to a night of clean looks.
"I thought he was poised," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the win. "And like I explained to a lot of the guys this week, especially after Tuesday's game, is, it's important right now that when you look at what's going on -- even watching games this afternoon --you see that the minute somebody makes a mistake up front, you've got the defense, and then if the defense makes a mistake, you've got the goaltender. But the goaltender has nobody behind him. So he's often the easy target. And we had to be better in front of him. And we weren't as good in front of him, on Tuesday, as we knew we can.
"I thought our guys did a better job, which allowed Tuukka to see the puck better, and he was able to make some key saves," added Julien. "I thought he was solid. And the goal they scored, everybody did everything well. We were all back and it hit a skate and it was a last-second screen in front of him where he lost sight of it. It was absolutely no way his fault."
The Rangers' only goal came on a Brad Richards wrister from the right point. It was the result of a broken play, after Richards attempted to send a pass across the slot, down to a wide-open Rick Nash in the left circle. Bruins center Patrice Bergeron did his job and blocked the initial pass, but the puck came right back to Richards, who wasted no time firing on net, and it beat a screened Rask upstairs.
"I think a couple of guys skated past my eyes there, and I just saw it at the last second," said Rask. "It was kind of one of those floppers that was kind of going left and right. So, it was a good shot."
"The goal they scored, I don't think there was anything he could do about it," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. "So, that's a pretty good start to the season, I'd say."
Rask said that he doesn't have a specific goal in mind, with regards to the number of starts he'd like to make as the team's bonafide No. 1 goalie. Regardless of the number, his teammates in front of him are confident he'll be able to handle the workload, after seeing this type of start to the season.
"I think he is a pretty competitive guy, knowing that he's stepping into the No. 1 spot," said Ference. "He's going to put a lot of good pressure on himself, so I think everybody has full confidence in him."