Haggerty: Rask lives up to his word in shutout

Haggerty: Rask lives up to his word in shutout
April 21, 2013, 8:30 pm
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While some of his teammates might have had to manufacture some emotion facing the worst team in the NHL, Tuukka Rask had plenty of motivation headed into Sunday’s showdown against the Florida Panthers.

Rask and head coach Claude Julien had both been on the same page when they identified goaltending as an area of weakness in Saturday’s emotion-packed loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rask had been beaten five hole on a Jarome Iginla shot from long distance, and then was solved on a short side strike from Kris Letang in the decisive third period of that game.

After Saturday’s loss Rask said he “cost [the Bruins] a game” and Claude Julien said Rask “has got to make some of those saves”, and it was true with Rask allowing three damaging goals on only 24 shots. It doesn’t get simpler than that in the hockey criticism department, and the 25-year-old Finn responded the only way a goaltender can when he feels like he cost his team a game: he pitched a shutout.

Rask stopped all 28 shots that he saw from the Panthers attack, and backstopped his way to his fourth shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over Florida at the TD Garden.

“I like getting shutouts, obviously, but I think it was a tight game. They had some chances, so I’m happier that I didn’t let in that goal and let them back in the game,” said Rask. “That hadn’t always been the case for me, even this year so that’s something to take from this game and build on.”

The game’s biggest save actually arrived in the first period with the Bruins nursing a 1-0 lead after Jaromir Jagr snapped a goal-scorer’s strike just under the crossbar on a curl and drag move. Florida outshot Boston in the first 20 minutes by a 10-7 mark and during one sequence Quinton Howden flung a puck at the front of the net with Drew Shore bearing down on the net.

Rask deflected the initial shot, but that left Shore with the puck all alone immediately in front of the net. Somehow Rask kicked out a left leg pad to stuff Shore’s quick shot attempt, and protected Boston’s precarious one goal lead.

“Tuukka’s [Rask] got a lot of character. He’s played well all year for us, and today was a perfect example. He made some huge saves,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Even in the first early on they made some great pad saves on the rebound.

“When you see a play like that it gives us energy to keep going to play in front of him the way we should. It was great to see his performance this afternoon.”

The Bruins goaltender kept right on being perfect until Dougie Hamilton finally struck for Boston’s second goal with more than 13 minutes gone in the second period.

If Rask hadn’t stopped Shore’s shot then the game could have taken on a much more unsure tone, but instead the Boston goaltending looked like it was right in the middle of the playoff form the Bruins will need in a couple of weeks. The Florida Panthers attack is definitely a little less than it could be due to injuries, but they were getting good traffic and tipped pucks at the Boston net throughout the game.

But Rask proved that he was tracking the puck extremely well on Sunday, and he simply wasn’t going to err after challenging himself following Saturday’s loss in front of nearly 18,000 Bruins fans that so badly wanted to celebrate a victory.

It might have raised some eyebrows when Julien went right back to Rask on the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday after absorbing the loss on Saturday.

But Julien said that’s Rask’s accountable response to the defeat was part of the reason he was right back between the pipes. The last time Julien had really criticized Rask was during a March road trip through Canada when they lost a tough road game to the Winnipeg Jets. When Rask disagreed with Julien’s pointed criticism of the goal, the coach opted to start backup Anton Khudobin in back-to-back games for the first time all season.

File it under lesson learned for Rask.

“I just thought that after last night, especially, [Rask] stood tall and said, ‘listen, I should have had a couple of goals.’ I thought it was important for me to put him back in and say, ‘here’s an opportunity to go out and battle back. The quicker the better,” said Julien. “He responded well. I texted him right after the game last night and said, ‘you’re back in there tomorrow.’

“I was glad to see that he played extremely well and it shows you a lot about his character.”

Obviously the Bruins and Rask need to continue this roll that they’re on for the final four games of the regular season, and they’ll need to do it against better competition in the Flyers, Capitals, Senators and Lightning. But they also have one of the leading candidates for the Vezina Trophy that’s fourth in the league with a 1.96 goals against average and third in the NHL with a .929 save percentage this season to go along with his fourth shutout of the year.

Rask will certainly get consideration for the top goaltending award, and he’ll probably get a Jimmy Howard-level contract extension once Boston’s playoff run has concluded – whether it’s a long and glorious, or short and disappointing.

But Rask proved on Sunday that’s blessed with some kind of guts to call himself out for a subpar effort, and then deliver something much better 24 hours later. Fair or unfair his Bruins teammates are expecting greatness from him, and he lived up to it while helping end a four game losing streak.  

It’s a nice harbinger of potentially good things to come in the postseason, and it’s a nice change from the lack of real accountability that used to be commonplace between the pipes for the Black and Gold.