BOSTON — When the Bruins went on their Stanley Cup run back in the spring of 2011, they didn’t enter the postseason riding a wave of momentum going 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. The power play was virtually nonexistent and in the bigger picture, no one would have labeled their offense high-octane.
The Bruins were even pushed to the brink by the Canadiens in the first round before coming back to win the series.
The reasons for that are bountiful, but the biggest, anyone will admit, was the play of goaltender Tim Thomas. It was a glaring example of how a hot goaltender can make all the difference when the chips are down at the NHL’s final table.
And while Tuukka Rask hasn’t had the historical season Thomas had in 2010-11, the current Bruins starter has been really, really good this season. That level of play was taken to a different level on Thursday night, though.
Rask turned aside all 30 Tampa Bay Lightning shots he saw in his league-leading fifth shutout Thursday night. In the process, he turned in a handful of breath-taking saves that had the TD Garden crowd chanting his name on more than one occasion. In addition to preserving a much-needed win, the dominant performance should also serve as a reminder as to what Rask can do when he’s on top of his game.
If the Bruins get this Rask in the playoffs, it might go long ways in erasing all of the doubts that have crept in about this team in the past few weeks.
Rask was indifferent, however, when asked whether or not he feels a performance like the one he gave Thursday can help him gain momentum heading into the postseason.
“I don’t know,” Rask said after his second shutout in as many starts.”I guess you always try to take the positives no matter how it goes, but the playoffs is a different season. Everybody knows that. I just try to feel comfortable out there and play the game one at a time.”
Rask knows as well as anyone that the playoffs are a different time. The netminder was one of the NHL’s best back in 2009-10 when he stepped in for Thomas. Rask led the league in save percentage and goals against average that season after appearing in 45 games. The playoffs, though, were a different story. Rask gave up 36 goals in 13 games, with 22 of those coming in the Philadelphia series. That, of course, was the series that Rask and the B’s not only coughed up a 3-0 series lead, but a 3-0 lead in Game 7. Rask gave up 15 goals in those four losses.
He at least sounds ready for the playoffs, which will be his first chance to put that postseason behind him after sitting behind Thomas on the club’s magical run to the Cup in 2011. It’s a given that Rask knows what to expect next week when the playoffs kick off, and he feels he knows what he has to do to find success in the playoffs.
“Everybody crashes the net a lot harder,” he said. “Every goal counts. Every win counts. It’s sometimes a really big scramble in front of the net. The battle level and the intensity level, I think it’s a bit higher. And for me, I think the biggest thing is fight for those loose pucks and take care of those.”
With all of the issues, and the ups and downs the Bruins have had this season, Rask has remained the most impressive Bruins player. The B’s will surely take him bringing his game to another level as they enter the playoffs.
“It’s important for him, obviously, and what we’ve been through, I think a lot of players right now, you still see certain guys fighting the puck a little bit, but at the end of the day, our goaltender plays a big role in your success,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who has been one of Rask’s toughest critics, at times this year, said.
“A game like tonight, if we don’t have good goaltending, the minute you get a breakdown the puck could be in the back of your net. You need a guy to stand tall and be good and you need a guy to go into the playoffs with confidence, hopefully that’s what Tuukka’s creating here.”
If that is the case, the Bruins know better than anyone that their goaltender’s play could set the stage for a long postseason run.