If the season ended today, Tuukka Rask would not be the Vezina Trophy winner. But he’s getting awfully close to that free trip to Las Vegas in late June for Awards Night.
Back in the second week of November, Rask appeared to be headed for a lost season. He was going through his now annual early-season struggles when he asked to take a some time off to deal with a personal issue. In his absence, Jaroslav Halak posted big wins over Toronto and Vegas and it appeared as if Rask had finally lost his hold on the No. 1 job he’s held since the 2013.
But Rask has bounced back in a huge way. Since a Dec. 23 clunker against Carolina in which he allowed five goals in a bad loss, he’s been excellent. Reminiscent of last season when he reeled off a 21-game point streak (19-0-2) Rask’s 1-0 shutout of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday pushed his current point streak to 17 games (14-0-3) and in that time, he’s got a .933 save percentage. In the midst of the streak, he rebounded from a concussion and has showed no ill effects, ether physically or mentally. He’s got his season save percentage up to .922 and goals-against average down to 2.29.
Rask didn’t see a ton of rubber in his third shutout of the season (20 saves), but he did have to turn away a Jesper Bratt breakaway midway through the third. Had he been lulled out of focus by the inaction, the outcome of the game might have been different.
“He was very good in that regard because goalies are humans too, right? They have a tendency to let their foot off, so to speak, take a mental breather, and tonight was very important he didn’t because of what we talked about that,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
“I thought we’d play solidly but have the odd breakdown. He was there for us. He’s really in the zone right now, and it looks like one of his easier shutouts, but I think these games are sometimes hard to play. When you don’t see a lot of action you have to stay focused. He’s no different coming off a big win against Tampa, so I give him a lot of credit, especially early on to make sure the guys know you’re ready to go.”
The effort was appreciated by his teammates, who played well defensively but didn’t leave him any margin for error on the scoreboard.
“I’m sure it can be tough for a goalie when you don’t have a ton of action,” said Brad Marchand. “It seemed like they had pretty consistent pressure when they were cutting into our zone, buzzing around, pucks are going to come to the net enough where he’s got to be focused and ready. He’s a professional, he’s great at what he does, he finds ways to keep focused in there and be ready when he’s got to stop pucks.”
As for staying focused, Rask said that, well, he’s been at this for a while now.
“It comes with the experience. You just learn to hang out, watch the game, and take it like a practice,” said Rask. “When they come, try to stop it. That’s it.”
The B’s new third line with Charlie Coyle in the middle has been solid. Coyle’s strength has helped the group control play and has allowed veteran David Backes to become more positively involved in the game. But whether it’s been Joakim Nordstrom or Peter Cehlarik on the left wing, the unit has not broken through for any points yet.
“We want to keep building it, building it. You want the end result. You want to be rewarded for our efforts,” said Coyle. “It feels like we are right there. Yeah, it’s right there. We are getting opportunities, chances. It’s going to go in sooner or later for us. So we just keep doing the right things and don’t stray away from it.”
We’ll see if Cehlarik gets another shot at it. Cassidy benched him the entire third period in he B’s win over Jersey.
“There was a few things we didn’t like,” said Cassidy. “We’ve talked about allowing guys to play through certain parts of their game and sometimes it’s better to sit and watch. Tonight, we chose the latter. There were some things we had talked to him about. It wasn’t the penalty. Penalties happen. It was a little more about his routes, responsibility away from the puck, managing it at the end of the second period in your own end. Those are things we’ve talked to him numerous times about, so we went a different route, and we’ll see where it leads.”
Cehlarik has more offensive upside than Nordstrom, though Nordstrom has more speed to get to loose pucks and is more defensively polished. Cassidy also took a look at Marcus Johansson on the line for a couple of shifts on Saturday. But all these players could be placeholders until Danton Heinen drops down when David Pastrnak returns in a couple of weeks.
Bergy moving up
It seems like Patrice Bergeron is always tying or passing some Bruins icon in the club’s record books. When Marchand converted his beautiful backhand pass for the game’s only goal on Saturday, it was his 793rd career point, pulling him even for sixth place on the all-time Bruins’ scoring list with Wayne Cashman, who was on the coaching staff in Bergeron’s first two years with the B’s.
“Cash was amazing. He’s a great man. He was always cracking jokes. He was a pleasure to be around and get to know,” said Bergeron, who was unaware he was approaching Cashman in the record book. “It is great being there with those guys. They’re people I respect so much and I’ve had the pleasure to meet over the years.”