Rask bounces back in loss

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Rask bounces back in loss

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.

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.