With 13.3 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s 6-0 laugher, Mikkel Boedker curled out of the corner and snapped a sharp shot on goal. Tuukka Rask closed his glove on Boedker’s shot. Given the way the season had started for Rask, he had no intentions of letting a shutout disappear.
“That was their only real chance,” Rask, following his 24-save blanking, said of Arizona’s third-period looks. “They had one other, but they missed the net. We kept it tight. That’s a good sign. Even though the game is 4-0, 5-0, you still have to play within your system.”
Rask has had busier nights, including his last start, a 5-4 overtime loss Wednesday to Philadelphia. But Rask, like most goalies, is a mirror of his defense.
When the Bruins set up their neutral-zone speed traps, protect with layers, and take away the front of the net, Rask is near-perfect in goal. When his teammates run around, forget their assignments, and hesitate, Rask looks human.
Tuesday’s game was the former.
“Defensively, one of the better ones overall for 60 minutes,” Rask said. “Not too many openings. Blocked a lot of shots. I saw the puck well. Good game.”
Entering the game, Rask’s numbers were in the basement: 1-3-1, 4.40 goals-against average, .854 save percentage. His numbers are still frightful following the shutout: 3.67 GAA, .874 save percentage.
But with a few more starts like Tuesday’s, Rask’s statistics will be back where they belong. Rask, after all, has the pedigree of getting wok-hot and staying aglow for a long time — even more so when his teammates play the right way.
“All the new faces that were maybe hesitating a little bit at first are now feeling more comfortable and more confident with what they need to do,” said coach Claude Julien. “You take hesitation out of your game, everybody on the ice benefits from it. Guys are a little bit more assertive in all areas, whether it’s defensively or offensively. Guys are starting to feel more comfortable.”
They played the wrong way in four of Rask’s first five starts. Every protective component failed, from the moat to the drawbridge to the men trained to pour hot oil over the castle wall.
Zdeno Chara was unavailable for the first two games. Matt Irwin was so jumpy the Bruins demoted him to Providence after two games. Zach Trotman hasn’t been deemed worthy to pull on a uniform for seven straight games.
So by the time the pillagers from Winnipeg, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia stormed the final perimeter, Rask was left on his own. Even former Vezina winners cannot stop pucks under such duress. By the Bruins’ count, the Flyers racked up 19 chances in their come-from-behind overtime win. The Bruins threw Rask out in front of a firing squad.
Rask did himself no favors within this stretch. He didn’t make the big saves when it mattered. He cheated on plays to bail out his teammates. It showed on the scoreboard, and even in his confidence during a pregame chat with backup Jonas Gustavsson.
“I was telling Gus before the game that I’d try to keep it at three or under today,” Rask cracked. “So I did that and I’d be happy with that.”
Against the Coyotes, Rask wasn’t asked to make many big saves. He didn’t have to.
The Bruins managed the puck well in all three zones. They didn’t give the Coyotes much speed in center ice. Once the Coyotes gained the blue line, the Bruins stacked up their defensive layers.
Arizona’s strongest push came during a second-period lull. They had a few good sniffs. Kyle Chipchura took several close-range whacks on one shift. Rask didn’t do anything acrobatic to turn Chipchura’s attempts aside. He simply dropped to his knees, kept his torso tall, and let the puck smack off his stuff. When Rask is calm, square, and standing tall, shooters do not see many openings.
“Second period, a few times we gave them some room in the neutral zone there,” Rask said. “Other than that, I thought it was a great, tight effort.”
The Coyotes were a diminished group. They were coming off a road win in Toronto. They were without top-line center Martin Hanzal. It is a young team — 20-year-old Anthony Duclair had a quiet night — that is relying on high-end goaltending from Mike Smith.
Smith didn’t come close against the Bruins. He suffered the same fate as Rask did — being asked to be the last line of defense once too often.
The Bruins are starting to look familiar. They’ve grabbed 9 out of their last 10 points. They’ve allowed just one goal in their last five periods — the one being a garbage-time strike by the Islanders last Friday. Their ace is feeling better about himself and his teammates. What started as a work in progress is now progressing.