Rask accepts his role, finally gets first win


Rask accepts his role, finally gets first win

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

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?

The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.

Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.

In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.

In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.

Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years. 

Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them. 

That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.

But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.

So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.

A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.

So, what are the Bruins to do right now?

There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.

But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.

That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.

Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.  

Thursday, Oct. 27: Chara top D-man on All-Graybeard team


Thursday, Oct. 27: Chara top D-man on All-Graybeard team

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while saying RIP Vine but not really feeling it since it’s a rabbit hole I never really delved down into. 

*Down Goes Brown celebrates the “NHL’s old guys”, and yes, that means a gratuitous shout out to Zdeno Chara as the top defenseman on the All-Graybeard squad. 

*Hampus Lindholm has signed a long term deal with the Anaheim Ducks, so now that deal leaves everybody to wonder who is leaving the Anaheim roster in the eventual salary cap crunch. It will be interesting to see if this hastens any Cam Fowler trade talk as far as the Bruins are concerned because it looks like they need the help.  

*Pro Hockey Talk has the Oilers off to their best start since the Wayne Gretzky Era and people in Edmonton finally getting to see the hockey they’ve been waiting for over the past few years. 

*In honor of the Halloween season that we’re in, here are a few cool and scary goalie masks with a bit of spooky flair. 

*Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is confident that his young team is going to rebound after a rough start to the season. 

*Speaking of creative uniforms, it’s a most wonderful time of the year for hockey when they bust out their Oktoberfest sweaters. 

*For something completely different: this matchup of Peanuts and Stranger Things hits all the right notes for fans of both.