To put it simply, Tuukka Rask is locked in.
Since ceding the net to Anton Khudobin for four straight games in mid-November – a stretch of four wins that kick started Boston’s 14-4-1 run – Rask has lost only once in regulation and has now garnered points in 10 straight games.
Named the NHL’s First Star last week, Rask is 9-0-1 during the streak, with a 1.41 goals against average and .946 save percentage. And over his last three games, Rask has stopped 92 of the 95 shots that have come his way.
Rask, who did not play on Thursday in Washington, is hoping to keep it rolling when he returns to the net against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night with the Bruins looking to bounce back from their shootout loss to the Capitals.
“I feel the same, I’m seeing the puck well, making saves. Don’t really feel too different,” Rask said following a limited skate at the Senators practice facility on Friday afternoon. “As a team we’ve played very good hockey and as I’ve said before that’s very helpful for goalies. When they clear out the bodies in front of you and if there’s any rebounds they clear out the rebound as well, that’s a big part of it.”
After starting 3-8-2, Rask has surged to a 12-8-3 record for the season with a 2.23 goals against average, which ranks fourth in the league and second behind Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy among those that have played in at least 24 games. Over a full campaign, they are numbers worthy of some hardware, not that the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner is thinking that way.
“It doesn’t matter. Things happen if they happen, we never play for the individual trophies anyways. But I think winning it once and looking back to it, the way your team plays in front of you plays a big role,” said Rask, who was named to his first All-Star team last season. “If your team doesn’t play well and they’re not playing good team defense then there’s no goalie that’s going to win it.
“It’s one of those trophies that even though it’s individual you look more at the team performance in front of the goalie as well. I’m fine with not being in that discussion.
“If it happens it happens. The biggest thing we’re worried about is our team performance.”
And it is that team performance that Rask does indeed credit for his recent string of victories. Since Nov. 16 – a span of 19 games – the Bruins have allowed 38 goals, good for second in the league. Prior to that point, the Bruins were 16th with 50 goals allowed in 16 games. For the season, Boston ranks fifth in the NHL (2.56).
“The way we play now, it’s good for goalies – you know you’re going to get some chances again. But it’s a trade-off, you know you’re going to get some chances for, too, in the offensive side,” said Rask. “It used to be that you’re focused so much on the defense that you’re only going to win games 1-0 or 2-1. As a goalie you know if you let in three goals you’re most likely going to lose.
“Nowadays, it’s more if you let in a bad goal you might be scoring four goals. That’s the biggest difference in that regard. When we’re playing well and everyone is on top of their game, it’s fun to watch and fun to play.”
Also contributing to Rask’s success is the success of Khudobin. Khudobin has eased the load on Rask – a focus for the Bruins entering the season – suiting up for 13 starts with an 8-2-3 record. The backup netminder’s 2.48 goals against average and .922 save percentage both rank 10th in the NHL.
“It’s been great. I think the things we wanted to accomplish is to have two goalies going and both feeling fresh,” said Rask. “That’s the main thing. I’ve felt fresh and I’m sure Doby’s felt fresh too. Haven’t felt like it’s been too heavy for either one of us.
“We’re on Game 35 or something right now, so almost to the halfway point, so gotta keep it going until the end.”
Cassidy did not rule out the possibility that both David Krejci and Adam McQuaid return to action on Saturday in Ottawa. Krejci has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, while McQuaid has been sidelined for some 10 weeks with a broken right fibula.
“Yes, a chance for both,” said Cassidy. “We’ll get a better idea after the skate. If we like where they’re at then they’ll both be game-time decisions. We’re not going to automatically assume [they're in] because tomorrow is a new day.”
Krejci, one of 12 players who participated in a limited practice on Friday, said he “felt good again” and is “optimistic” that he’ll be in the lineup if he wakes up feeling the same on Saturday.
McQuaid also practiced on Friday and said, “I feel like I’m pretty close. I feel better and better every day, so that’s a good sign. I’m antsy to get back in there.”