The Bruins have often said they have two No. 1 goaltenders in their deck.
It looks like for the first time since they became a tandem three years ago, both Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask are playing that way. Rask continued a torrid December run with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. That performance gives him an otherworldly .971 save percentage during four starts this month.
Rask was the beneficiary of a Kings team that seemed alternately confused andor asleep after going through a coaching change 24 hours prior. Regardless, the 24-year-old netminder was still stellar between the pipes. With a 41-save effort that included a 20-stop third period, the backup goaltender improved to 6-4-1 on the season with his first shutout of the year. He has now passed Thomas in save percentage (.939 to .938) and goals against average (1.82 to 1.92).
Rask's play has no doubt been a confidence booster this month. But he also got positive reviews after he replaced Thomas last weekend against the Blue Jackets in a tie game and came away with the victory. That show of faith was a brilliant coaching move for Claude Julien, and something that may help Rask as he competes with the best goalie in the world for playing time.
He was good tonight. He was arguably our best player tonight. He stood tall and they threw a lot of shots at him, certainly not easy shots to stop, said Julien. There was a lot of traffic in front of the net screens. He had the quick feet going, made the saves on close-range and was probably our best player.
So he got better as the game went on and I thought he did a good job the other night coming in and kind of settling himself in the third period against Columbus and then he just carried that into tonight.
The toughest saves of the night came late in the game with the Bs holding down a three-goal lead and Los Angeles finally showing some desperation and thats when Rask shook off a play with Kings scrapper Dustin Brown walking in alone. Brown maneuvered through the Boston defense before getting turned away by the young puck-stopper, and his shutout was complete.
You just try to win every game. The team knows what Im capable of and theyve seen me enough so I dont really need to prove that day in and day out, said Rask, who is a ridiculous 3-1 with a 0.91 goals against average and a .971 save percentage during four games in the month of December. Theres no more to prove to them than I have to prove to myself. I dont take any extra pressure on that.
I just tried to save every puck. You dont want to think about shutouts because you might chase yourself but couple tough chances in the end but that was it.
The plan all along was to start Rask at home against the Kings on Tuesday, and come back with Thomas in Ottawa, where hes piled up the most road wins and shutouts of any road arena in his Bruins career.
Claude Julien wouldnt discuss his goaltending plan after Tuesday nights shutout victory, but its all but assured hes still going to come back with Thomas against the Sens as outlined Tuesday morning.
What will be interesting is which goaltender gets the call against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon in an important Eastern Conference match for the Bruins. Juliens decision could rest largely on what Thomas does against the Senators on Wednesday night, but more playing time should be trending toward Rasks direction given the way that hes played.
With Rask standing on his head this month, and the Bruins still without Zdeno Chara for what could be the next couple of games, its certainly worth discussing a little more playing time for Rask. The high number of shots for the Kings indicates a Bs team thats perhaps playing a little more in the bend but dont break mold, and there needs to be some tightening up in front of the goalie.
We have to tighten up a bit. I think we went through spurts in the game where we were playing well and spurts where we werent, Brad Marchand said. You know, Tuukka did a great job of keeping us in it when shots were coming at him but we definitely played sloppy at times.
So its a good thing Rask is playing so well that he can cover for a sloppy group of Bs finding their way in a Chara-less world.
Once the Bruins get past their spread-out schedule (seven games in a little less than three weeks) leading into the New Year, there will be a steady diet of Rask in the second half of the regular season. That much is certain as it has been Bostons strategy all along to give Thomas some second-half rest.
Where once that might have seemed like a risky proposition, one could now make the argument its the best chance for Boston to win given the level at which Rask is playing in net.