When Tuukka Rask is playing as well as he has been in his last 10 games, just about everything goes the Bruins goaltender’s way.
There were very few times Rask was out of position in Thursday’s 3-0 shutout of the Rangers.
On the rare occasion he was, Rask still pulled out all the stops.
And when he wasn’t stopping the puck, it was ringing off the post and out of harm’s way, like it did when Carl Hagelin charged in on a three-on-two rush in the first period.
“Post in, post out. First part of the season, that was post in,” Rask said. “Now it’s post out. Hopefully it keeps going.”
It was about much more than luck Thursday, as Rask turned away 30 shots to earn his second shutout of the season and the Bruins won their fifth straight game.
The Rangers came out fast and Rask was challenged early, stopping a series of breakaways to protect a 1-0 lead in the first period.
The first came just over five minutes in when former Boston College star and Boxford native Chris Kreider broke into the Bruins zone and swept across the crease to try to beat Rask.
Rask stonewalled Kreider with a sliding toe-pad save, which drew the first of many “Tuuukkk” chants from the TD Garden crowd.
Shortly after, Lee Stempniak got his turn on a breakaway, but Rask swatted it away with his stick.
“You get a couple of tough chances early on and it gets you in the game,” Rask said. “The past few games, we’ve been closing out quickly on point shots and not giving a lot of opportunities, so that helps me when I see the puck.
“When you look at the trends, the [Rangers] are a quick counter team and look to get on the rush quickly so I have to be aware of that, but I thought we eliminated their speed pretty well.”
The first half of the season has been shaky for Rask, who came in with an 18-10-6 record and a 2.49 goals-against average.
Rask, who won the Vezina Trophy last season with a 36-15-6 record and 2.04 GAA, was critical of his own performance last week, calling this season, “not great, obviously.”
But Rask has come on strong with a 7-0-3 record in his last 10 games. He hasn’t lost a game in regulation in nearly a month, when the Bruins fell to Winnipeg, 2-1, Dec. 19.
“He was really good for us tonight,” coach Claude Julien said. “This team has a lot of speed, the Rangers, and we acknowledged that before the game.
“They certainly displayed it at times and when there was that odd breakdown and they had opportunities to score, Tuukka was up to the task there and made some big saves for us. No doubt in my mind he was our best player tonight.”
In the second period, the Rangers peppered Rask with 14 shots on net, five of which came while the Rangers had a man-advantage.
At the 11:14 mark, Brad Marchand was sent to the box for cross-checking. The Bruins killed the penalty, but then Dennis Seidenberg went to the box just under three minutes later for boarding.
Rask and the Bruins weathered both penalties and entered the final period protecting a 2-0 lead, and Rask turned away the final nine shots to secure the shutout.
“They had a few looks and they’re going to get some shots, but we protected the house and took the second opportunities against and that’s it,” Rask said.
Of course for Rask — or any goaltender — the sailing is smoother when the team is playing strong defense in front of the crease.
It’s always harder to make the saves when Rask is facing upward of 30 shots, or sometimes 40, like he did earlier in the season against Minnesota (42), San Jose (44), and Nashville (40) — all games the Bruins lost.
On Thursday, he saw 30 shots, a lot of which were clean looks that didn’t produce many quality scoring chances for the Rangers.
“I played good [Thursday], but then again, when the team plays good in front of you, it makes it that much easier,” Rask said. “When you’re cutting the scoring chances down, early in the year it used to be 15, 20 scoring chances and the odds are you’re going to give up two or three goals. Now when it’s close to 10, it helps a lot. I felt pretty much the same all year. Now just not getting stupid bounces and we’re playing really good team defense.”