By Danny Picard
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