Bruins step up for Rask, help earn him season's first win


Bruins step up for Rask, help earn him season's first win

BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask had a 2.71 goals-against average entering Monday night's game against the New York Islanders at the TD Garden. But he had no wins to show for it.

Three starts, three losses. That's how Rask's season had gone.

But everybody in the Bruins dressing room agreed: it wasn't his fault.

Monday night was about extending their win streak to three games. But with Rask getting the nod -- even after Tim Thomas posted a shutout on Saturday night in Toronto -- the Bruins' game against the Islanders meant more than a win streak.

It was about getting Rask something he deserved a long time ago.

"We wanted to get this win for him," said Bruins forward Gregory Campbell after Monday night's game. "He works hard every day. It's not an easy job and he's positive. He's a great goaltender and not too often you have two great goaltenders on one team battling for the same job, so we have a lot of confidence in both of them. Tuukka's played well every time he's been in the net. We just haven't had the goals to support him so it was nice to get those goals and give him his first win."

The B's defeated the Islanders 6-2 on Monday, marking the first time they've scored more than three goals for Rask since last February. In his three previous starts this season, the Bruins were shut out, scored one goal, and then scored two. All three resulted in losses.

Rask admitted some frustration, Monday, with his team's inability to bring their A-game when he's been between the pipes. It's a problem that continued from last season. But things were different against the Islanders.

"I wasn't too frustrated, but obviously, when you feel like you're playing OK, and then you just lose, it's kind of tough on your confidence a little bit," said Rask after Monday's win. "But we battled through it, and it's good to get that win.

"It's more fun to win than lose. I was a little frustrated, obviously. But not too crazy. I knew it would come, because we were playing bad as a team at the beginning of the season too, so it was just bad luck there. It feels good obviously."

Rask made 26 saves and didn't allow a goal after the pair he let up in the first period. He had no chance on the first, as Matt Moulson beautifully re-directed a shot from the point. And on the second, Rask was a victim of a Michael Grabner snipe to the top-right corner.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the game that it would have been "easy" to go back to Thomas on Monday night, after his shutout against the Maple Leafs on Saturday. But Rask's previous success against the Islanders combined with the fact that Julien is dead set on playing both goaltenders this season, made for Rask's fourth start of the season.

And this time, the players in front of him showed up.

"I think it was just a matter of time," said Julien after the win. "I don't think we ever questioned his play. And even in those games he lost, it was pretty obvious that his game was fine. It was us in front of him that weren't doing a very good job.

"So tonight, the players played much better in front of him, and gave him some cushion as well. And he was able to play his game comfortably."

"We really put a lot of talk before the game into it," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "Its something he deserved and we just didnt do a very good job early on when he was playing. So for sure, tonight to get a win for him and Im sure hes also happy with his performance.

"You could see the guys really sacrifice themselves, blocking shots. We saw Danny Paille was just paying the price. Gregory Campbells always trying to block shots, Dennis Seidenberg. We have guys willing to do their job to prevent any pucks going to the net and Tuukka made really big saves when we needed it."

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.