Rask ready to slow down for '100-mph' hockey

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Rask ready to slow down for '100-mph' hockey

Things have certainly changed with the Boston Bruins.

In his final season with the Bs Tim Thomas decided he didnt want to speak to reporters on game days, and wouldnt have been standing with his arms folded at his dressing room stall waiting for the questions.

But its a new goaltending era in Boston, and Tuukka Rask was ready, willing and able to answer everything that came his way as the proving ground for his case as franchise goaltender begins tonight against the New York Rangers. Rask has sufficiently shaken off the six goals he allowed in Tuesdays scrimmage against the Providence Bruins, and had his game face on.

Its exciting, said Rask, who finished with a 2.05 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 22 games last season. I feel like our team had a good morning skate and were ready to go. I was trying to get my mind back and legs back this week, and I think I was able to do that.

Itll be a tricky challenge for Rask as hes the kind of big, rangy goaltender that is at his best when his body is quiet and trained on the path of the puck. The between-the-pipes gymnastics common during Tim Thomas time in goal is now a thing of the past for the Black and Gold, but it becomes a tough trick for a goal that will have gallons of adrenaline coursing through his veins.

Theres little doubt things will look like somebody hit the fast-forward button in the first few minutes of the game, but Rask is just looking to settle in and start making his case for being Bostons No. 1 goaltender.

I just hope its not going to be 100-mph with everybody getting in front of me so I cant see a thing, said Rask. Thats the toughest part for a goalie when you havent played in a long time: staying calm and letting the puck come to you rather than over-moving or over-thinking. Its going to be fast out there and thats something I have to be mentally prepared for.

Not to put too much pressure on the 26-year-old Rask, but its not unfair to say the Bruins ultimate fate for this season hinges on the Finnish goaltender. If he can utilize the strong defensive players around him and make the most of Claude Juliens system designed to keep shooters to the perimeter of the offensive zone, the Bruins will be among a short list of Stanley Cup favorites.

If Rask has issues with his glove hand or develops a habit of giving up a bad goal per game in the early going, then the Bruins could be saddled as a middle of the pack playoff team with last years first round fate likely to be repeated.

Its perhaps unfair to heap so much pressure and responsibility on one player, but Tim Thomas exit is the only major change to a team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and was the best team in hockey last season until Tim Thomas decided to skip out on the White House visit.

They could be both of those things again if Rask can stop 93 percent of the shots that hell face, and avoid groin problems or simply tiring out while shouldering a sizeable workload.

Quite simply Rask needs to live up to being the young goalie that led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage as a rookie three years ago.

5 reasons the Celtics will get the No. 1 seed

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5 reasons the Celtics will get the No. 1 seed

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Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.