Veteran goalie sharp when Boston needed him most.
On the face of it, the Bruins’ 3-0 victory over the winless New Jersey Devils in the home opener at TD Garden on Saturday night was of the ho-hum variety. The B’s are clearly better than the Devils right now, so they collected their two points and moved on.
But that’s not the whole story. The B’s were hardly perfect. Their goaltender, however, was, and Tuukka Rask made the B’s fourth win in five games much more comfortable than it could have been.
Rask stopped all 31 shots he faced, including 15 in the long-change second period when the B’s were protecting a 2-0 lead and found themselves in their own end a little too much. He didn’t steal the win, but he needed to be good.
“That’s when Tuukka really stepped up. That’s when he should get the credit,” said coach Bruce Cassidy of the second. “In a game like this, that’s where he earned his paycheck tonight. We broke down a lot there trying to break pucks out and had some loose play. He was really good.”
The Devils (0-3-2) are not a good team right now, but they do have a handful of very good players, which is the reason many of us thought they’d have a bounce-back season. They still might. And there was a point in the second period where it looked like they were sick of watching Brad Marchand play keep-away from them and some professional pride was kicking in. But Rask made sure that’s as far as it went.
“It’s a momentum game and you expect the other team to make a push and they did,” said Rask. “They had a couple of power plays and we kept them off the scoreboard there, which was big. Then going with the lead in the third period, we were comfortable. It was good.”
After the potential crisis was averted, Patrice Bergeron added a power-play goal with 46 seconds left in the second period and that was that. With a 3-0 lead, the B’s cruised to victory in the third period. The only thing left to do for the sellout crowd was to boo P.K. Subban some more — he’s really not a bad guy, folks — and some people even had the temerity to pick up a short-lived “We Want The Cup!” chant.
That, of course, is ridiculous for October. But with the goaltending the B’s have gotten through the first five games of the season, it’s easy to see why some are already expecting a long run from this team.
In three games, Rask has a 1.33 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage with his 3-0 record. His 1B, Jaroslav Halak, has a 1.52 GAA and a .957 save percentage as well. Cassidy plans to go back with Halak for Monday’s matinee against Anaheim. At this rate, Cassidy can rock back and forth between the two netminders all season long if he so chooses.
For a team that has legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, the B’s biggest strength very well might be at the most important position.
“Tuuks just seems to be dialed in and he has a lot of confidence right now. And Jaro. They’re two of the best goalies in the world and we’re lucky to have them on our team,” said Marchand, the game’s second star behind Rask. “I think they feed off each other with that confidence they have. Again, we have a good team in front of them and that all helps, but they’re on their game right now and it’s fun to watch.”
Rask, of course, finished strong last year. He was consistently the B’s best player in their two-month run to the Stanley Cup Final. But coming into this season, there was the question of Rask’s slow starts the past couple of years. So far he’s answering that question the best he can.
As is his way, Rask was not about to over-analyze his game with things are going well, preferring to spread the accolades around.
“We’re playing good,” said Rask. “When you finish your season in June, I think it helps everybody have that feeling in the back of your head how to play this game. System-wise, I think we’ve been pretty solid. And I’m just tagging along there.”
Tagging along? Rask has been a little more integral than that.