Life after Tim Thomas is going OK. Tuukka Rask made another 30 saves Thursday night, pocketed another win (his 11th), 2-1, over the Senators at the Garden, and further solidified his standing as the able-and-willing successor to the guy who left Causeway Street in an abrupt, exhausted huff after winning one Stanley Cup and two Vezina trophies.
“Right now,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, “no doubt I have the same confidence in him.’’
That’s same, as in the same as Thomas, who last summer up and left for the Colorado hills, saying he was no longer sure if he wanted to play in the NHL. These days, Thomas is property of the New York Islanders and has yet to be spotted anywhere in or around an Original 30 rink, or anywhere else for that matter. Either way, he’s gone for good from the Hub of Hockey and the job is all there for the 25-year-old Rask to embrace for what could be a very long time.
“He’s got the opportunity to be a No. 1,’’ said veteran pivot Patrice Bergeron, who ticked home a Dennis Seidenberg wrister for the winner in OT. “So you want him to thrive on it. He’s grabbed it and he’s running with it.’’
Rask’s got rhythm. When goalies have it going, they are fluid, confident, and square to shots, their bodies seemingly morphed into 4-x-6-feet sheets of plywood in front of the net. Only one Senator shot, by Jim O’Brien, made it by Rask Thursday night and it came after the Boston goalie made a brilliant first stop on a Kaspars Daugavins breakaway. Daugavins made a deke-and-stuff move to the left post and Rask cut off the attempt with a dandy right pad stop.
Seconds later, though, after Daugavins centered in off the rear board, O’Brien made the stuff as Zdeno Chara and David Krejci failed to clear. Messy coverage, a nasty goal, and a 1-1 tie late in the second period.
“I saw [the pass] come in and I saved it,’’ said Rask, reviewing the one shot that eluded him. “I mean, hey, it [stinks] when you make a couple of stops, but . . . ’’
But little fazes anyone in a Black-and-Gold sweater now with 17 games logged in a 48-game “Honey-I-shrunk-the-schedule” of a season. The Bruins are now 13-2-2, which translates to an astounding Eastern Conference-best .824 winning percentage. Stop the whole show right here and bring in those unsinkable, unbeatable Blackhawks to start the Stanley Cup Final.
The win over the Senators wasn’t anything special, but every victory has it’s own beauty.
“It was a tough grind,’’ noted Julien, his club not sharp after returning home from a five-game road trip, “no doubt about that. We didn’t have our A-game, I guess, tonight.’’
One exception: the goalie. Rask was top-grade. He has been that in every start thus far, other than that Keystone Kops-like 7-4 loss to the Sabres Jan. 31. He has made five straight starts, come out of them with five straight wins, allowing only seven goals over 303-plus minutes.
“I’m moving and making saves,’’ said Rask, describing the rhythm that his game has developed, “and it seems the puck finds ways to hit me.’’
The question that remains here, mostly for Julien, is how much of a good thing to make of this good thing that is Rask? The Lightning are here on Saturday, followed by “Les Glorieux” Canadiens on Sunday night. Rask is in such a rhythm that it’s possible, though not likely, that Julien would call on the Finn for both starts. If the Bruins could play at an .824 clip through what portends to be a torturous month of March, they could have a playoff berth locked up before April Fools’ Day and put their feet up until the start of the postseason in May.
Julien noted again after the win that he has plans to use Rask and his backup, Anton Khudobin, but acknowledged that the plans often change.
“I’m going to look at the week and I kind of plan,’’ he said. “But I always keep it as a game-to-game situation. There could be injuries. There could be a goaltender really having a tough night. And you change your mind.’’
So, there’s definitely nothing definite about who’ll be in net this weekend. The only thing definite is that Rask looks like he can’t lose, which is the stuff of fantasy for all NHL goalies. If Rask were playing now under the watch of Mike Keenan, who never met a goalie workhorse he didn’t ride, he would be figuring that he might make 31 of the remaining 31 starts in the Boston net.
“He’s going to want to prove himself through a whole year,’’ said Julien, adding to his statement that he has as much confidence in Rask as he had in Thomas, “and not just a 20-game span or half a season. He’s going to want to be solid from start to finish. I think that’s his challenge this year.’’
Rask, added Julien, looks like “a goaltender ready to take over.’’
By the looks of things, Rask is beyond ready. He’s there. What last summer appeared to be a gaping hole in the Boston net with Thomas gone now looks like case closed, job won, maybe even another Vezina in waiting.