OTTAWA – Tuukka Rask was certainly in a playful mood at Friday’s practice at Carleton University even after losing a penalty shot competition to his goaltending partner. Rask took it in stride by taking an energetic lap around the rink punctuated by slamming his stick into the crossbar and corner boards before jumping off his skates shoulder first into the boards.
It’s the kind of meltdown that the Finnish netminder is usually good for maybe once or twice a season during practice, and Friday morning turned out to be a good time to take a Tuukka nutty.
So Rask was in good spirits after getting the night off on Thursday and watching his partner, Anton Khudobin, make 27 saves en route to a 2-1 victory over the Senators at Scotiabank Place. And why shouldn’t he be as he sits among the NHL’s top five goalies with 14 wins, a 1.98 goals against average and a .928 save percentage even if he’s being pushed by an excellent Khudobin this year?
“It’s a tough battle every day out there. I want to be at my best and so does [Khudobin],” said Rask. “I think it’s a good situation. There’s no pressure for us more than going out there, being your best and trying to play better than the other guy.
“I’m really happy for [Khudobin] that he’s been getting the wins lately and he’s been playing really solid.
While it’s most likely that the 26-year-old Finnish netminder will be back in net Saturday night against the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, it’s not the lock that it might have been in January or February. Khudobin has come on strong in March and Rask has been the losing netminder in three of Boston’s four third period collapses since March 3, and Claude Julien pointed out on NESN postgame that Evander Kane’s third period game-winning goal in Winnipeg was a moment “that you need timely saves there and we didn’t get it.”
Rask always gives an honest assessment of his own performance, and will be the first to admit when he isn’t able to make a save that he probably should have stopped. So while he understood the coach’s sentiments in a moment of heated emotion right after the Winnipeg loss, Rask isn’t going to let it enter into his preparation as he’ll be attempting to snap a two-game personal losing streak the next time he gets between the pipes.
“There was six minutes left and it’s a one goal game. It’s a situation where we obviously needed the save, but sometimes it doesn’t happen,” said Rask. “I’m trying. It’s just a tough break. But you’ve just got to work through it.
“There are goals that you think that you needed to stop. That was just a bad goal at a bad time. I’m not blaming myself too much for that one.”
That’s a fair assessment given that the entire team seemed to be on their heels on the shift following Blake Wheeler’s game-tying goal in the third period, and the juicy rebound served up by Rask was one of a whole host of things that went wrong in the minute following Winnipeg’s first goal.
But either way Rask is showing the exact kind of selective memory that a goaltender needs to have in order to be successful at the NHL level, and should do him a world of good when he suits up next for the Black and Gold.