MONTREAL Tuukka Rask only finished with 20 saves Wednesday night against the high-flying Canadiens, and some might take that as a rocking-chair effort for a goaltender in a rivalry game at the NHL level.
But Rask was instrumental in Bostons victory while holding things together in the first period with 11 saves.
"I told the team we needed to come out of the first period tied or ahead, and we were able to do that because Tuukka saved us," said Claude Julien. "He was outstanding early in this game."
Strictly for comparison sake, it took the Bruins offense more than 12 minutes just to get a single shot on Montreal's net. Certainly the Habs shot themselves in the foot a few times in defeat as Tomas Plekanec unsuccessfully flailed at a breakaway attempt while all on his own in the second period, and David Desharnais missed wide right on a doorstep chance in the third period that actually went through Rask's pads.
We wanted to come out hard and match their work ethic for that first period. But we didnt, said Rask. They got a lot of chances but luckily we got out of it in a 0-0 game and stuck with it for the rest of the game.
I dont think we felt good going into the third period. We were kind of waking up or a little rattled maybe. Its a game for first place and we were playing just well enough to lose by one goal. Then we started playing hockey.
But Rask was also his competitive, calm self while closing off a Lars Eller breakaway goal in the first period, and kicking it away to safety in the corner with a right pad save. The Finnish goaltender then just plain refused to let anything pass while chaotic scrambles bunched up all around him in fine Montreal fashion.
It wasn't a one-man operation either, however, and individual defensive players came up big behind Rask.
During one exchange in the first period Rene Bourque had the puck at the right post, and presumably had the kind of raw strength needed to push the puck past the goal line. First Dougie Hamilton had the presence of mind to block his scoring chance when the Bs goaltender was outside his crease.
Rask held the line on Bourques second rebound attempt.
The B's goaltender didnt have a shot at Montreals one goal in the second period scored when P.K. Subban ripped a shot off of Rich Peverley's stick blade that arched high into the corner of the net. So Rask put that score behind him and made 19 other stops throughout the game sandwiched around the one breakaway killer save on Eller that he tidily knocked aside with a stiff right pad.
Later in the third period Rask was again just as solid shutting down a last-ditch effort by the Canadiens to tie the game as Habs skaters grew desperate. Things continued to go white-knuckle until the very end as both clubs got whistled for penalties in the final minute plus of the game.
One confidence booster for Rask, who improved to 6-1-1 on the season with the win, is that his body of work against the Canadiens continues to improve. The Bruins goaltender upped his career record against Montreal to a 2-6-1 mark that could still use a few more W's for good measure.
His 1.96 goals against average and .922 save percentage this season are exactly where they need to be.
Tuukka has had the right attitude for us since day one with high expectations and question marks that go along with it, said Claude Julien. Day in and day out he just does his job and doesnt get too high or too low. Hes a normal goaltender.
That may be a surprise to a lot of people, but hes so easy going. I can talk to him in the middle of a game about something thats going on, and he has no issues. Some goalies would probably bite your head off if you said something to them in that kind of situation. But hes down to earth and easy to coach. That kind of translates into the calm play that allowed us to come back in this game.
Rask can afford to be much calmer when hes on the winning end as hes been six times in eight chances this year, a great start for the first-place Bruins and their goalie establishing himself as one of the best in the Eastern Conference.