BOSTON — It certainly looks like Tuukka Rask has the hot hand for the Boston Bruins.
After securing a victory in relief of starter Tim Thomas Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Rask followed up with a 41-save performance — including 20 in the third period — in the Bruins’ 3-0 shutout over the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night at the TD Garden.
“He was arguably our best player tonight,” head coach Claude Julien said about his starting netminder. “He stood tall and they threw a lot of shots at them that were certainly not easy to stop. They was a lot of traffic in front of the net and he had the quick feet going, made the saves from close range and was probably our best player. He got better as the game went on and I thought he did a good job the other night [against Columbus] coming in and kind of settling himself in the third period then he just carried that into tonight.”
With captain Zdeno Chara out of the lineup due to a knee injury, the Bruins were looking for defensive stability starting from the goalie out. Although the shots started to pile up, Boston remained calm in its own end and didn’t get too rattled as the shot total went up, particularly with the Kings in desperation mode during the last 20 minutes.
Thanks to Brad Marchand’s second goal of the night at 5:35 of the final stanza, the Bruins had some breathing room. But Tuukka was hardly thinking about the shutout as he faced more shots in the last 14-plus minutes even after stoning Dustin Brown late in the game with the glove.
“I just tried to save every puck,” he said. “You don’t want to think about shutouts because you might jinx yourself, but there were a couple of tough chances at the end and that was it.
“You just try to protect the lead and hopefully you get the third goal,” Rask added about the importance of getting the 3-0 lead. “They came out hard and got some pretty good chances, but we were able to keep them off the scoreboard and Marshy got a nice goal there to extend the lead. So that was nice to see.”
In a game that had some interesting storylines going in — from the Bruins’ injuries to Monday’s news of Terry Murray being fired in LA — the Kings were looking to make an initial impression under interim coach and former Flyers’ bench boss John Stevens.
But in the end Tuukka and the Bruins made the Kings leave in disappointment for Stevens’ first contest.
“I think we were focused on our own game and we can’t look at other teams too much,” Rask said. “Obviously you recognize what happened and it might give you a little extra boost when something like that happens, but we just had to focus on our own game.”
After losing the starting job to Tim Thomas in the 2010-11 season and after a slow start to this year, Tuukka seems to have settled into a nice grove. The Finnish netminder is 3-1-1 in his last five contests allowing just five goals and sustaining a save percentage of .967 during that span.
For a goalie who has seen his share of struggles in the past year and a half, Rask provided the Bruins with the luxury of the 1-2 goaltending punch, something many teams don’t have.
And for a guy looking to bounce back, Tuukka showed that he, too, can contribute in the Hub of Hockey.
“Well for the most part, I think Tuukka gets all the credit for that shutout,” said Marchand. “He played amazing and he made a lot of really big saves. There are times where your guys make big plays to stop good opportunities, but for tonight, Tuukks definitely earned it.”