Perhaps the Bruins had too much cheer during the holiday break.
Perhaps three mandated days off were a tad too many, allowing some rust to set in to the team’s skates.
Whatever the reason, the Bruins sloughed off a poor first period on the way to a 5-0 victory over Ottawa at TD Garden for their eighth straight home win.
The reason the Senators were held off the board during their 15-shot barrage over the opening 20 minutes was the stellar play of goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask (33 saves) allowed the Bruins to regroup after the first intermission and roll over the visitors, earning his 20th career shutout and fourth of the season. Rask is now in sole possession of eighth place on the club’s all-time shutout list.
The Bruins recovered from their early sluggishness by scoring one goal in the second and pouring on four in the third.
“We were making soft plays and we weren’t hard on the puck in the first period,’’ said left wing Milan Lucic. “We just talked about correcting that and we seemed to get our feet moving and started making plays in the [offensive] zone and taking the puck to the net and fortunately, we were able to get rewarded for it.’’
Lucic said there was no doubt the reason the Bruins didn’t go into the first intermission with a deficit was because of Rask.
“We easily could’ve been down a couple of goals in the first period,’’ said Lucic. “That’s why I think he’s been our best player so far throughout this year. He makes big saves like that at key moments and gives us a chance to win. We talked about stepping up for him and playing well in the second and third. It was good that we were able to do that.’’
Rask said he faced some strong opposition in the opening 20 minutes but was able to hold the fort. On the very first shift, Clarke MacArthur tested the netminder 25 seconds in, trying to make a back-door play.
“It happened so quick, it just hits you,’’ said Rask. “You’re kind of throwing yourself out there and it hit me. Sometimes it doesn’t.’’
At 11:53, Cory Conacher had a backhand shot from the slot that Rask turned away. At 14:57, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara made a risky pinch that led to a Kyle Turris opportunity and a rebound shot by Erik Karlsson, but none found the back of the net.
“They pretty much had all their best chances in that first period,’’ said Rask. “We had five [shots] so that tells us a lot about that period. We weren’t skating, we weren’t hitting, we weren’t as sharp with our passes as we were in the last two periods and we talked about it after the first — fix it — and we were pretty dominant after that I thought.’’
Rask said he expected some rust as a result of the recess.
“You take three days off and you probably go for a walk or something like that, you don’t skate or play hockey so I think there’s a little bit of that,’’ he said. “I’m just happy that we fixed it and we realized it wasn’t going to be good enough.’’
Rask said anticipating the team might come out a little bit flat in the early going certainly didn’t hurt his preparation.
“You just have to make sure that you’re not rusty,’’ he said. “Because if you’re rusty, then your team [is in trouble]. It takes a lot of energy mentally to stay sharp and today I succeeded.’’
Rask has received a great deal of support in his last three contests — all victories. The Bruins have scored 15 goals and have allowed just three, with two of the wins coming via shutout.
“The third [period] hasn’t been always our strong [suit],’’ said Rask. “Lately it’s become that and [we’ve] really put teams away. It drains you when the games are always 1-0 or 2-1. It’s good to get a little cushion every once in a while. Obviously, it’s not going to happen every time. I’m just happy the past couple of games it did.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.