Rask 'not too tired' as he nears career-high NHL starts

Rask 'not too tired' as he nears career-high NHL starts
January 14, 2014, 1:15 am
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(AP Images)

WILMINGTON – Tuukka Rask temporarily quelled the chatter about slumps or workload fatigue with his NHL-leading fifth shutout of the season last weekend against the San Jose Sharks.

“It was good, but we have to remember that it was just one game,” cautioned Rask. “We have to realize coming back home that it’s going to be a tough one against [the Maple Leafs.] We’re adjusting . . . it’s new for everybody when you’re missing a guy like [Dennis Seidenberg].

“He’s a guy that plays a lot of minutes. At the end of the day, our game is playing good defense and being stingy around the net like we were against San Jose. We’ve got some younger guys that are growing into their roles. It’s a learning curve.”

Rask has been among the league’s best goalie all season, and remains there with a 22-11-2 record along with a 2.06 goals against average and .930 save percentage in 36 starts for the Black and Gold. But he’s also approaching his career high in starts (39) in a season, and has experienced a bit more difficulty maintaining consistency over the last few weeks.

He’d given up 14 goals in the four games prior to last weekend’s shutout in San Jose, and is sporting an .894 save percentage in his last five games. Some of it is clearly not Rask’s fault, as Claude Julien pointed out following Monday’s practice when outlining his thinking behind pulling his No. 1 goalie in last week’s loss to the LA Kings.

“I thought Tuukka had a really good game against San Jose. He probably had some goals that he’d like to have back in some of the other games,” said Julien. “The defense wasn’t as solid as it has been, but it was in that [San Jose] game. When you put your mind to it and play the way you should as a team, it makes a big difference.

“I know when Tuukka needs to be pulled, but there are times when I do it for the sake of changing the game’s momentum. In LA there’s no way he could have stopped that third goal [scored by Alec Martinez] because he was screened by three or four guys from the get-go. That’s more of what it was all about in that game against [the Kings].”

Rask said he feels okay physically at this point, but knows it’s going to get even more challenging once he’s in the middle of the Olympic travel and the subsequent 17-game schedule in March. He’s already well aware there will be four sets of back-to-back that month, and it could be difficult depending on their standing in both the division and the conference.

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve just got to work, and keep battling through it,” said Rask. “I think everybody is feeling a little bit of the schedule being pretty heavy, but I’m not too tired. It’s draining mentally when you travel a lot, and you play every other day.

“It’s not going to get any easier. I’ve thought about it, but then again . . . what can you do? It’s your job to adjust and be as good as you can be. I’ve looked at the schedule, and March is going to be crazy. Again. Just like last year. You just keep plugging away, and try to win games.”

One thing Rask took as good news: the players have been hearing there will be charter flights from Sochi after the Olympic quarter-finals, and then again after the final medal rounds. So some NHL players will get a couple of days to rest and re-acclimate from their Russian hockey experience.

Then it will be unchartered territory for Rask. The 26-year-old is on a pace to obliterate his career-high with a 65-start season, and then will be expected to shoulder the intense Stanley Cup playoff workload at his highest level of play. Everybody thinks that Rask is capable of handling that kind of NHL franchise goalie workload without a significant dip in his play, including the Bruins after signing him to an eight-year, $56 million deal last summer.

But Rask can’t prove he can handle it until he actually goes out and stays consistently excellent for about 85 games this season. He’s almost halfway there, but there’s still a long, long way for a B’s goalie with some high expectations.