BUFFALO Sometimes when youre smack in the middle of the tempest, you cant see the answer right in front of you.
Tuukka Rask knew something was amiss as he grew more uncomfortable with each passing game between the pipes as it mushroomed into a five-game losing streak. But a visit in Buffalo from Bs goalie coach Bob Essensa helped the young Bs goaltender realize hed been dropping too rapidly into his butterfly position when the going got tough.
It was a subtle observation from Essensa, but it was all Rask needed to climb out of his February abyss. Rask was his normal stoic goaltending self while backstopping the Bruins to a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center, and looks like hes back on track.
Dropping down has been a weakness of mine lately. It has a lot to do with confidence. Goalie Bob Essensa came here and started to work on that. Its good when somebody tells you that because sometimes you dont realize it yourself, said Rask. Its not always such an easy thing to do when youre feeling the best that youve ever felt. Its a challenge mentally to stay patient and stay up.
Too bad that we lost, but I thought we played a good game.
Sure it was technically Rasks sixth straight loss, but it was also the first time in more than a month the Bs have pulled points out of consecutive games.
Rask made 26 stops including the deflection of a Derek Roy shot away from danger in the opening minute of the first period, and seemingly immediately banished the demons of his previous appearance in Buffalo.
There wasnt going to be a repeat of the blowout defeat that saw Rask apologizing to Tim Thomas on ice for forcing him into a game on his night of rest. That would have been the one where Rask allowed three goals on 10 shots and was pulled early in the second period en route to the Bs worst loss in four years.
It was a good battle. The shootouts can go either way, said Rask, who hadnt allowed fewer than two goals since a 9-0 shutout win over the Calgary Flames back on Jan. 5. I just tried to be more patient and not go down earlyexcept for that Sekera goal. Obviously it was a step ahead for me and hopefully I can keep it up.
Rask was keeping it up Friday night while evenly facing down a red-hot Ryan Miller through a scoreless first period. He shook off an Andrej Sekera goal in the second period that had him kicking himself for slipping into his habit of dropping down too early, and locked it down in the final 20 minutes as his team mounted a comeback.
Rask had strong defensive efforts from Johnny Boychuk and Zdeno Chara protecting things in front of him, but he was calm, effortless and at his quiet best when Buffalo attackers broke through. Rask confidently pounced on pucks that skittered through the crease area and flawlessly absorbed shots fired directly on him.
Several weeks ago in the same building against the same team he was coughing up dangerous rebounds all over the ice. This time he was the picture of control and economic motion between the pipes.
In overtime Rask was the recipient of a stellar Zdeno Chara defensive play as he shooed away a Thomas Vanek that looked destined to be the game-winner. But Rask used his scrambling athleticism to quickly recover and make the follow-up save on Andrej Sekera.
Of course the Finnish netminder swore softly to himself for failing to corral Vaneks wind-up slapper and Derek Roys game-winner in the shootout both of which he managed to get a piece of but the building blocks are in place.
Rask is putting one foot in front of the other to regain the form he had while leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage headed into January.
Never is that more important than the stretch of 22 games in 40 days the Bruins are headed for once they finish up their six-game road trip with Saturday nights tilt against the Senators.
The Bruins need Rask to step up and provide quality performances to keep Tim Thomas rested and ready down the stretch. That will be an easier chore if Claude Juliens confidence index has risen significantly after seeing some vintage Tuukka against the Sabres.
I thought his game was good tonight. He was solid and made good saveskey saves, said Julien. He seemed like he was in good control. From the bench he seemed calm and was making saves look easy.
I like the way that he battled back in this building from the last time he was here. His game was good and gave us a chance to win.
So Rask is feeling good about himself and his technique between the pipes, and its inevitable that the wins will be following if he continues on that path.