During a normal season with a three-week training camp and an 82-game schedule, a Monday afternoon matinee against the Winnipeg Jets might have been the perfect time for backup goaltender Anton Khudobin to find his way into the Bruins lineup.
But nothing about this shortened 48-game NHL season is normal, and the No. 1 goaltender of Kazakhstan never got into Monday's tilt.
Instead it made all the sense in the world to insert Tuukka Rask right back in there while hes building himself a happy little groove to start the young 2013 hockey season. The Finnish netminder continued to cement his good start to a pivotal season by stopping 26 shots en route to a 2-1 shootout win over the Jets at TD Garden.
It probably wasnt the portrait of good playoff-level hockey that the Bruins and Rangers put on over the weekend, but it was important to see Rask and his teammates grind through a win early in the year. The Bruins hit five posts and couldn't finish off every chance that a generous Winnipeg defense gave them, but that's when their goaltending needs to cover the offense's back-side.
In that sense Rask had the boys covered on Monday afternoon. It was also important for him to match Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec save-for-save as his counterpart was holding the Jets in the game at the other end of the ice with 26 saves of his own.
We just talked about that before the game, but its a funny thing. No matter how much you talk about certain things it just tends to go a different way, said Rask. We turned the puck over too many times and we didnt get the puck in a few times when we needed. Theyre a good skating team, so we gave them too much space at times.
While Rask wasnt tested all that often by a listless Rangers bunch over the weekend, he needed to be on top of things against a Winnipeg team that shot at him from all areas of the ice. The only goal allowed was a Chris Thorburn strike on a long rebound that was just out of the reach of Zdeno Chara's telephone pole of a hockey stick.
The Bs goaltenders best save of the day: the glove hand snare of a breakaway bid by Kyle Wellwood after he got behind Adam McQuaid and Andrew Ference in a potentially lethal defensive breakdown. That kept it a one-goal deficit early in the first period, and showed early that Rask had to be better than he was Saturday because the defense wasnt quite as good.
But thats generally the job description for the masked men, and what will be asked of Rask as a No. 1 goaltender capable of carrying the Black and Gold until they're consistently at full efficiency.
He was asked to make a few solid technical stops and one sensational one during the 60 minutes of play when that was the case, and the Bruins needed to scramble to kill penalties in the third period and overtime. But then the Bruins dominated and didnt allow a single shot on net in overtime despite being shorthanded.
D-zone we got a little bit loose at times and we had to reel guys back in, but our D has done a great job. They try to give shots from the outside and that gives Tuukka Rask the best chance possible to see those pucks and make the saves, said Claude Julien. Tuukkas come up big for us as well. Defensively, I think were starting to play more through our identity and because of that were getting some offensive opportunities, as well.
There were some saves that were less sensational, but no less important in a contest where one mistake would make the difference. Like the shootout stops on Olli Jokinen and Bryan Little that guaranteed two points at the end of the extra session, and gave the Bruins a 10-3 shootout record over the last two seasons. Strangely enough Blake Wheeler was the only one to score in the shootout for Winnipeg, and thats the only guy Rask has an extensive book on headed into the showdown.
It doesnt really matter whether you watch shootout film or not. You just try to stay patient and wait the guy out, said Rask. I watched film in my first year, maybe a little bit more, but now I havent done it.
Well, whatever Rask is doing is working for him. The Finnish netminder is 2-0-0 with a 0.96 goals against average and a .958 save percentage in his first two games of the season, and couldnt have drawn up a better beginning to a pivotal prove it year for him and his hockey club.