Rask accepts his role, finally gets first win

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Rask accepts his role, finally gets first win

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- It was the longest Tuukka Rask had ever gone without a win.

He said so himself after earning his first of the season Thursday night at the TD Garden, shutting out the Florida Panthers with 41 saves.

Prior to that, Rask held an 0-4-1 record in five appearances this year. Because of Tim Thomas' 10-1-0 hot start, Rask has been used as Boston's backup, just months after taking the B's within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals as the team's No. 1 'tender.

Regardless of his youth, the 23-year-old Rask is in the midst of quite a learning process. He's had to deal with going from being a No. 1 to being a goalie who's had to keep himself ready while no longer playing in consecutive games.

It's not an easy task, and he's even admitted that he's had to change his mindset.

But he hasn't allowed himself to become a distraction to the team . . . and that's a rare trait in this day and age in professional sports.

When players become stars, they don't want to be put on the bench. They want to continue to thrive as the go-to guy. They want to continue to be a star. And Rask pretty much earned star status last year as a Bruin.

So far this season, Rask's star doesn't have as much shine. But that doesn't have anything to do with how he's played, even if his record doesn't necessarily back that statement up.

It's been all about Thomas, and how he's returned to his Vezina-Trophy self.

But Thursday night's win against the Panthers was all about Rask.

"This game was mostly for him," said Milan Lucic, who scored the Bruins' first three goals in Boston's 4-0 win over Florida. "We wanted to go out there and give him a good effort, and give him a win, because he's been such a great guy in the locker room. He's such a great goalie and we're happy that we were able to get this win for him."

"I mean, we've got a lot of good guys in here, but he's definitely one of the best team guys around," said Shawn Thornton. "So, it's pretty disappointing in the first few games that we couldn't get a win for him, couldn't get the goals we needed.

"He keeps an upbeat attitude the whole time," added Thornton. "He's happy for what's going on here. He doesn't put himself ahead of anyone."

Rask also put himself in front of 41 pucks on Thursday night, marking his seventh career shutout. He is now 1-4-1 in six appearances because of it.

"It feels good to not let your team down, because we're on a winning streak now, and we keep that thing going," said Rask. "But it's just a win. It's not the first game I've won with the Bruins, but it feels good."

After the game, Rask refused to make a big deal about his first win of the season. Certainly, you would think the first one would lift a huge weight of his shoulders. But he said there's not much sense of relief, an attitude that shows he has a lot more to prove, even if he wasn't all that bad in his first five appearances.

"I felt good in all the games I've played," said Rask. "I just didn't get the bounces. Obviously today we scored four goals. That helps a lot, too."

Rask held a 1-0 lead late into the third period. That's when things began to open up, as Lucic scored his second and third goals 15 seconds apart, with just over five minutes left in the game.

It gave the Bruins plenty of breathing room, for sure. But on this night, with Rask having accepted his role, having continued to be a team player, and having been at his best, the Bruins didn't necessarily need it.

"Probably the game that we were hoping to see from him, for all the right reasons," said coach Claude Julien. "It was a grind, especially early on, and he really kept us in the game with some big saves, big, timely saves. So it was good for his confidence, and it was good for us to see him play that way. If you're going to get your first win, then what better way than a shutout."

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

It takes only the highest levels of perseverance and dedication to the game to log over 1,300 NHL games and to play past your 40th birthday. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has both of those qualities in overflowing amounts as the fourth oldest player in the league behind Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen. Chara is also the second longest tenured captain in the league behind Doan, who has been the captain of the Coyotes since 2003.

For all those reasons and more, Chara has been voted by the Boston Chapter of the PWHA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) as the Bruins nominee for the Masterton Trophy given to the player that best exemplifies “the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

The Bruins captain has also been the embodiment of good sportsmanship in his 11 years as captain of the Black and Gold while leading teams with his steady, hard-working hand through both epic highs and lows. Chara is always at the forefront of the Bruins charitable efforts and has shown his dedication to the game by nearly always participating for his Slovakian homeland whether it’s world championships, the Olympics or the World Cup as the setting for the International tournament.

It all comes back to Chara’s love for the game, his dedication to setting an example as a professional and his enjoyment of the hard work required to play in the NHL for 18 plus seasons.

“From my first day in the NHL until today it is an absolute thrill to play in the league,” said Chara. “It’s a great honor to be nominated. I always take a lot of pride in doing my job as a professional, and doing it right. Doing all of my work on and off the ice. I’ve always felt really humble about being a part of this league and this game. It’s a game that gives you so much in life, and helps you become a better person and a better hockey player each day.

“I’m just enjoying my time with team and my teammates, and cherish the memories of winning. I just try to work every day on my game and improve. I enjoy every day whether I was 20 years old or 40 years old. I love the game, and I love everything about it.”

Chara had missed only 41 games for the Bruins in his first 10 seasons with the team in a remarkable show of durability and toughness while playing the role a physical defensive stopper. He's never shied away from the big hits, the big players or the big ice time totals. The veteran D-man is having a banner season as a 40-year-old that started out by leading Team Europe to the World Cup Final against Team Canada, and it’s continued with his season-long mentoring job helping develop 20-year-old rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Chara has changed a bit from his Norris Trophy days while adjusting his game to reduced levels of physicality and out-and-out dominance, but the ability to still call on both of those qualities at 40 years old is unique for an intimidating 6-foot-9 force out on the ice. Equally impressive is his standing as a No. 1 defenseman at this point in his 18-plus year career while constantly dedicated to improving himself, and learning, both on and off ice. Perhaps Chara’s most underrated quality is his ability to move the puck and chip in offensively, a set of skills that will see him pass the 600-point milestone this season after a career built in part on a big slap shot from the point.

It’s also a great example of Chara remaking himself into more of a puck-mover and power play point producer when he was projected to be a good defense/limited offense shutdown defenseman all those years ago working his way through the Islanders’ ranks.

Chara continues to be a strong lead-by-example personality within the Bruins dressing room, one who demands hard work and total dedication to both the game and the team concept when it comes to his Boston teammates.

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While the sequence of events over the past couple of days could understandably lead one to wonder who will start between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night vs. Nashville, interim coach Bruce Cassidy tried to quell any hint of a goalie controversy.

The vote of confidence was certainly needed after Anton Khudobin’s fifth consecutive win halted the B's four-game losing streak with a huge 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Saturday night in the wake of Rask’s absence while tending to a short-term lower body issue.  

“[Rask] had a good practice today. I spoke with him. We’ll see how he wakes up tomorrow and we’ll make our decision. He’s our No. 1 goalie, so there’s no way we can skirt our way around that issue. He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important. When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision,” said Cassidy. “He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year...and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.

“That’s why we have two goaltender, and [Anton Khudobin] has really stepped up in that last stretch and done what’s asked of him. He’s fixed that area of our game. It’s nice to have a guy that’s your No. 2 that can win you hockey games and play well. It’s a great problem to have, to be honest with you. But Tuukka is our No. 1. But Tuukka is our No. 1. He’s our guy.”

Rask declared himself fit to play after going through a full Monday practice with no issues, but said he’s still waiting to hear the final word on whether he’ll play on Tuesday night vs. the Predators. The Bruins franchise goalie also said he isn’t worried about any recurrence of the lower body injury that “popped up” in the Tampa Bay loss Thursday night, which really doesn’t bring any clarity to the entire situation.

“It was a good day back on the ice. I feel good. We’ll see what the decision is [for the Nashville game], but I feel good today,” said Rask, who is 8-8 with a .892 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average since the All-Star break, compared to Khudobin’s 2-0-0 with a .920 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. “You need to put the best lineup out as possible, and I wasn’t in any shape to play. So, there are no easy decisions this time of year, but I’ve played a lot of hockey and injuries happen. We talked to the training staff and managers and came to a decision that [Khudobin] was going to play the game, and that’s it.

“It’s obviously tough from a personal standpoint, but it’s never about one guy or two guys. It’s a team game and I feel confident that we’re going to get the job done as long as we play the way we did. It was great to see.”

Clearly, it looks like Rask is going to play vs. Nashville and that’s the safe, easy decision when it comes to a No. 1 goalie getting paid $7 million a season and perhaps it all works out with a fired up Finnish netminder after sitting out Saturday night. But nobody is going to be faulted if they wonder what’s going to wrong with Rask ahead of the next gigantic game Boston will have to play with the Stanley Cup playoffs on the line.