NEW YORK — Five floors above ice level at Madison Square Garden, Jari Kurri set his eyes on the only Finn on the ice.
Kurri, once known as Wayne Gretzky’s go-to shooter, is now the general manager of the Finnish national team. Like his Olympic counterparts, Kurri has just over a month of evaluation remaining to determine his roster for the 2014 Winter Games.
Tuukka Rask’s performance in the Bruins’ 2-1 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night should give Kurri no doubt on the identity of one of his three goalies. Maybe even his starter.
The Rangers poured 44 shots on goal. The Bruins blocked 23 pucks. Eighteen other shots went wide.
Rask coolly turned back all but one. The Bruins, playing their second straight road game, hustled out of Manhattan with 2 stolen points. Rask was the chief pickpocket.
In the first, the Rangers outshot the Bruins by a 16-6 margin. Rask turned them all back. Rask was perfect again in the third, stopping 11 shots.
The only puck Rask couldn’t handle was a Derick Brassard power-play goal at 12:31 of the second. Rask didn’t get a clean look at Brassard’s release because of a Johnny Boychuk screen.
“We were able to hang on,” said coach Claude Julien. “But a lot of credit goes to Tuukka.”
A night before, Rask didn’t have to do as much in the Bruins’ 4-1 win over Carolina. The Hurricanes applied brief bursts of pressure that Rask turned back.
There was no such respite Tuesday night. For most of the first 40 minutes, Rask saw more rubber than a Goodyear garage.
The barrage started with a Chris Kreider penalty shot at 6:16. Kreider, who’s excelled at stretching out opponents, slipped behind Boychuk to receive a Mats Zuccarello pass. Boychuk’s only move was to haul down the former Boston College standout before he could score the game’s first goal.
On the penalty shot, Rask held his ground and didn’t give away any of the net. Kreider snapped a shot blocker side. Rask punched out Kreider’s attempt to keep the game scoreless.
It wouldn’t be the last time for Rask to foil Kreider. Rask stopped four more Kreider shots, all of them Grade-A chances. In the second period, the Rangers pulled away for a three-on-two rush. Derek Stepan snapped a cross-ice pass for Kreider back door. Rask read the play, accelerated out of his crease, and snuffed Kreider’s point-blank shot at 6:49.
“He played unbelievable and held us in there,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. “I don’t know how many breakaways he had tonight, including a penalty shot. If it wasn’t for him again, it could have been a completely different outcome.”
While Rask was busy punching and kicking out pucks, the plumbers were hard at work, too. At 4:58 of the second, Thornton scored the game’s first goal.
Thornton stole the puck from Justin Falk in the defensive zone. The Rangers were caught changing, which allowed Thornton and Brad Marchand to break free for a two-on-one rush. Marchand went for the net, forcing John Moore to go with him. Thornton, a healthy scratch the previous night for the first time this season, sniped the puck over Henrik Lundqvist’s glove to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
“I told [Reilly Smith] a couple shifts before that I thought I had one in me tonight,” Thornton said. “He told me if I was going to score, I better go top glove. So I just listened to him.”
Fellow fourth-line mate Daniel Paille wanted in, too. At 10:33 of the second, David Krejci was called for goalie interference. On the penalty kill, Paille doubled the Bruins’ lead with a shorthanded goal.
Paille started the sequence by banking a self-pass off the boards. He scooted around Ryan Callahan, closed on Lundqvist, and tucked a backhander through the goalie’s pads at 11:30 of the second to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
“If you look at the guys who scored, they’re not usually on the scoreboard, Thorty and Piesey,” Rask said. “It just tells that we have four lines that are going to step up on different nights. Today it was them. You need that. When everybody’s not going, you need unsung heroes to step up, and they did.”
The fourth line’s work was not over. The Bruins settled down in the third. But the Rangers still pushed the pace. Julien sometimes tabs only three lines in the third period of one-goal games.
But the Bruins played the night before. They had flown from North Carolina after the win. Julien needed all 19 skaters — he lost Dennis Seidenberg early in the first to a lower-body injury – to pull on the chain. So Julien rolled out Paille, Thornton, and Gregory Campbell. They deserved the late-game shifts because of their performance.
“We found more for them in the third,” Julien said. “That line with Campbell, they played a pretty good game. They came up big for us at the right time.”