GLENDALE, AZ. It would have been understandable if Tuukka Rask had forgotten how to react when giving up a goal.
After all, the 24-year-old Finnish netminder had gone more than three weeks without allowing a goal and had more than 170 straight minutes of scoreless hockey under his belt when crafty Ray Whitney finally solved him at the end of the first period Wednesday night.
It was a prototypical Whitney goal with the ageless forward knifing through the Bruins defensive pair of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk before sliding a shot through Rasks leg pads. But Rask was able to shake it off quickly and instead made 21 out of 22 saves en route to the 2-1 victory over the Coyotes at jobing.com Arena. Bostons elite goaltending tandem has allowed the Bruins to pull out some games they probably shouldnt have while going 21-2-1 over the last 24 games.
That was the case again against a Coyotes team that continuously pierced the Bs defense in the neutral zone. Rask capped off an amazing December with a 5-1 record in six games to go along with a .975 save percentage and a microscopic 0.75 goals against average.
He was our savior tonight, said Dennis Seidenberg without a hint of overstatement when asked about Rask.
Its by no means a gaudy save total for a nights work between the pipes, but nearly half of the Coyotes 22 shots were legitimate scoring chances where Bostons defense had been pierced. Rask was the final line of defense through three periods and overtime, and was at his best while standing on his head in the second period.
I didnt have that many shots out there, but they had some good chances, said Rask. It was just kind of a mental grind when you dont see that many shots and youre just trying to stay sharp for 60 minutes.
We always try to say to ourselves that good teams find a way to win these kinds of games. Today we proved it again. Its a good sign for our hockey team and we just have to build on it and get better.
Rasks best arrived on Phoenixs only power play of the game with Johnny Boychuk off for tripping Ray Whitney on a partial 3-on-1 breakaway. That led to another Whitney breakaway during the Coyotes man advantage, and this time Rask was forced to kick out his left leg to block one of Whitneys handful of scoring opportunities.
Minutes later Whitney fed Phoenix defenseman David Schlemko for a one-time hammer from the right circle, and Rask deflected that puck toward the slot area. With the Desert Dogs swirling all around the net, Zdeno Chara cleared the puck from the front of the net when Rask had left the crease area to aggressively attack the shooter.
All of those little saves and instances led up to Seidenbergs overtime game-winning shot, and handed Rask his fifth win in six December games after back-to-back shutouts against the Kings and Panthers.
The 22-save gem from Rask also pushed the netminder into the NHL lead in both the goals against average (1.61) and save percentage (.945) while continuing to push the Bs goaltending into the NHLs top-ranked spot in nearly every imaginable goaltending category.It's pretty amazing howmuch things change in a year: almost a year ago to the day Rask was pulled after the first period against the Buffalo Sabres and was hitting a career-low nadir in confidence and performance. Thatvalley has turned into a monstrous peak this year for the Finnish goalie.
Rask is happy with the run hes been on and the masterful month of December thats now complete with Tim Thomas getting Saturday nights nod against the Dallas Stars.ButRask doesn't havemoves like Jagger, anddoesnt want to utter the satisfaction word.
Im not proud really. You always try to do your best and stop every shot, said Rask. The month or whatever Ive had where Ive been in low-scoring games and Ive managed to keep the scoring down. Thats something you want to do. Back-to-back shutouts are a good sign, but you cant get too satisfied. Youve got to keep concentrating on your job and the future.
That future is looking incredibly bright once again, and thats a familiar feeling for the Finnish netminder. Rask is starting to feel that same groove he had two years ago when he wrested the starting job away from Thomas, and theres no way hes going to allow complacency to creep into his game.
Tuukka was good and he made some big saves. Both goaltenders had chances to win the game for their team, and I thought Tuukka was outstanding, said Claude Julien. Weve seen this before. He took over a couple of years ago because he was playing that away. All he needed was a little playing time, and hes got that and hes making the most of it.
Ive been talking about the goaltending as a real position of strength and right now were showing it rather than talking about it.
The Bruins have allowed more than two goals only once during 11 games in the month of November, and theyre pacing to allow the fewest goals of an NHL team since coming out of the lockout. The B's goaltenders lead the NHL with an amazing 1.85 goals against average and a gaudy .941 save percentage that's higher than Thomas' NHL record-setting mark from last year.Plenty of those numbers go toward Julien'sconcept and the teams defensive-minded players. But its largely about the leagues best goaltending tandem that once again took home two points they might not have deserved in a road victory over the Yotes.