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Tuukka Rask turns mistakes into wins

Tuukka Rask denied a bid by Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, one of his 35 saves on the night.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Odds are good that had an average goalie been minding the Boston crease the last two games, the Bruins would have recorded zero points against Tampa Bay and Ottawa.

Tuukka Rask has been far from average.

Goalies, unlike any other hockey players, can be the biggest difference between four points and none. For the second and third periods against the Senators on Tuesday, the Bruins chased the puck. They did the same in Thursday's second period against the Lightning.

On Tuesday, Rask turned back every shot in the final 40 minutes save for a Matt Puempel third-period strike. In Thursday's second period, when the Lightning pushed their hardest, Rask punched out all 16 pucks that whizzed his way.

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The result: a 3-1 victory over the Senators, a 3-2 shootout win over the Lightning, and four fat points that will go a long way in formalizing a playoff spot for the eighth straight season.

Over the last two games, Rask has stopped 70 of 73 shots for a .959 save percentage. Rask is locked in, seemingly refreshed from the one-game breather he enjoyed against Detroit last Sunday.

"He's been huge," Patrice Bergeron said of Rask. "He gave us a chance to get the extra point, for sure. Especially in overtime, down a man, he made some huge saves to keep us in it. He's been great. He's definitely stepped up to the plate. He keeps getting better."

The game was tied at 1 after 20 minutes. Nothing changed after the second period. That was all because of Rask.

"I'll give credit to the goalie," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. "He did what he had to do. He kept them in it."

The Bruins played very well in the first period. They reverted to match-striking in the second, the same bad habit they employed for the final 40 minutes against Ottawa. They played as if they were on islands. The forwards didn't circle back hard enough into the defensive zone. The defensemen couldn't handle Tampa's forecheck because of the bad spacing.

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This is no way to play against a fast, quick, and talented team such as the Lightning.

"Instead of being a five-man unit, we were spread into two parts," said coach Claude Julien. "That really hurt us a lot in the second period. We were able to regain our game in the third. We made it an exciting third. The rest, we know what happened afterwards."

What happened was that one goalie fizzled. Ben Bishop had a good look at Bergeron's long-distance shot from just inside the blue line. After taking a pass off the wall from Dennis Seidenberg, Bergeron teed up a one-timer. It wasn't moving very fast. There was no traffic in front. But the puck floated over Bishop's glove at 2:20 of the third to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

There were no such softies on Rask's record. In the first, following a Zdeno Chara turnover, Steven Stamkos rifled a short-range snapper over Rask's glove. In the third, Vladislav Namestnikov gained net-front position on Bergeron and tapped in the rebound of Mark Barberio's point shot to tie the game at 2.

Rask was spotless otherwise. In the first, he pulled out a sharp one-two sequence. He stopped Victor Hedman's point shot. Then when Jonathan Drouin jumped on the rebound, Rask flashed out his right pad to turn back the follow-up bid.

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In overtime, the Lightning went on a four-on-three power play after Matt Bartkowski was called for holding. Rask stood tall and kept his net clear.

In the shootout, Rask first took on Nikita Kucherov, who missed on the backhand. Drouin, Tampa's second shooter, hit the right post.

There would be no third shooter after Bergeron and Brad Marchand slipped pucks past Bishop. Rask wasn't complaining.

"We did a good job shooting," Rask said. "We got it on net. You give yourselves a better chance to score when you hit the net."

The Bruins are happy with the wins. They kept their six-point lead over ninth-place Florida. They are just two points back of seventh-place Washington.

They would like, however, to correct the mistakes of the last two games instead of seeing them carry over into this weekend's roadies against Pittsburgh and Washington.

"We went back to playing on our heels," Bergeron said of the second period. "They're a good team, and they're going to make you pay if you do that. We were giving them way too much space. We weren't taking care of the puck and they were sitting right on us. Our forwards were too far ahead, and our D's couldn't make that easy pass and we were back in our zone."

They made errors. Rask eliminated their mistakes like an eraser rubs out stray pencil marks.

Nobody, including the Bruins, wants to play Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. Carey Price is not just the game's best goalie. He's a top-three candidate for MVP. If Henrik Lundqvist gets healthy, not many teams will enjoy playing the Rangers. Both goalies are exceptional at turning mistakes into ho-hum saves and losses into wins. This matters far more in a seven-game sprint than in an 82-game marathon.

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The way Rask is playing, some teams are thinking the same way about the Bruins.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.