Rask brilliant in December

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Rask brilliant in December

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.

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins' third line has been reborn under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, and the players are now openly admitting they desperately needed a change.

Claude Julien never trusted Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes enough defensively to play them together, but this line has blossomed under Cassidy: Six goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in seven games. They’ve survived in the defensive zone by rarely playing there. Instead, they push the pace, make plays to keep the puck out of the D-zone and, most importantly, keep producing the secondary offense that wasn’t there in the first 55 games of the season. 

No one has been freed from the shackles more than Spooner, who is back playing his natural center position after being forced to play left wing under Julien. The 25-year-old said Tuesday that getting a clean slate with a new coach has been extremely beneficial to him, and that perhaps he didn't always love playing for the guy now minding the bench in Montreal. 

“I felt like the last coach ... he just didn’t really trust me,” said Spooner, who has two goals and six points along with a plus-1 rating in seven games post-Julien. “It might've been kind of on me not really playing to the potential that I have, but at the same time . . . I just don’t think that he really liked me as a player. It’s kind of in the past now. It’s just a part of the game. It’s up to me to just go out there and just play, and not have that stuff in the back of my mind. 

“I just kind of have to go out there and believe in myself and I think at times I wasn’t really going out there and doing that. Maybe that’s something to learn. This sport has ups and downs, and I’ve had my downs. You learn that you can just sort of push through it. If you do that then things can be good.”

Spooner has 10 goals and 33 points along with a minus-3 this season, and could potentially surpass last year's numbers (13-36-49) in his second full season. 

Most felt that the speedy, skilled Spooner would be one of the big beneficiaries of the move from Julien to Cassidy, and now he’s showing that with a new lease on life in Boston. 

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Nothing coming easy for Habs

Tuesday, Feb. 28: Nothing coming easy for Habs

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while it’s all happening around the NHL world ahead of tomorrow’s NHL trade deadline.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eric Engels says that a torturous February shows that nothing will come easy for the Montreal Canadiens.

*Some raw locker room video from the Florida Panthers with local D-man Keith Yandle holding court with reporters.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has some early thoughts, and some praise, for the Washington Capitals landing puck-moving D-man and big ticket rental player Kevin Shattenkirk.

*The Toronto Maple Leafs up their playoff cred by landing gritty, big third-line center Brian Boyle ahead of the trade deadline.

*Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the city of Chicago’s longest-tenured teammates having spent the last 12 years together with the Blackhawks.

*Patrice Bergeron and Toucher and Rich are getting together for their 10th annual Cuts for a Cause, which will be on March 27.

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/community/cuts-for-a-cause

*For something completely different: Jimmy Kimmel gives his perspective of the debacle that went down at the end of the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/watch-jimmy-kimmel-on-oscars-best-picture-award-mistake-w469552