DETROIT – If anybody doubts how Tuukka Rask can turn losses into wins, please consider the flurry of pucks he turned back in Saturday’s second period.
There was Justin Abdelkader, after picking off a Zdeno Chara pass, zooming in for a close-range shot. There was Tomas Tatar, parked in front of the net, redirecting a wide-left Jonathan Ericsson floater on goal. There was Frans Nielsen at the money end of an odd-man rush with a quality scoring chance.
Nothing, zero, nada.
“In the second period, that sequence of saves was huge,” Dominic Moore said after Rask (24 saves) backstopped the Bruins to a 1-0 win over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. “That gave us a little extra jump in our step going forward from that. Tuukka’s so poised. He makes it looks easy.”
Patrice Bergeron is the Bruins’ best player. David Krejci gives them an excellent No. 2 center when he’s clicking. Zdeno Chara is still good for 20-plus minutes of shutdown play.
But Rask can pluck two points out of thin air, much like he closes his glove on would-be goals, and in a way that none of his teammates can equal. While Rask was shelved because of an undisclosed injury for the last three games, Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban, and Zane McIntyre were unable to bail out the Bruins against Montreal, Minnesota, and the Rangers.
On Saturday, the Bruins played better against the Wings than they did in their three straight previous losses. They skated harder. They forechecked the heck out of the Wings. Their penalty kill prevented Detroit from landing a single puck on net in 2:56 of man-up time, including a final 1:13 of six-on-four play with Brandon Carlo in the box and Jimmy Howard off for an extra attacker.
But the Bruins still needed their ace to deliver at critical times.
After Abdelkader pulled away from Chara, Rask flashed his pads to kick out the forward’s bid to break a 0-0 tie. When Tatar deflected Ericsson’s shot, Rask, who was leaning to the right, readjusted at the last moment to bat away the puck with his glove. Then when Nielsen tried to finish a three-on-two sprint, Rask calmly squared up to the center and bricked up the net in his trademark ice-cold style.
Detroit’s second-period push came after 10-plus minutes of no-shot action in the first for Rask.
“Not an ideal start when you’re missing a week and you don’t see the puck,” said Rask. “Just tried to stay focused and wait for that shot to come. For myself, it was pretty much a 40-minute game. In the first period, they didn’t really have a chance there. Great effort by the guys. We played a heck of a game.”
The issue for Rask is whether he can shake off his injury to submit multiple starts. After coming up lame in the season opener against Columbus, Rask was unable to play two nights later against Toronto. Following his second flareup against New Jersey on Oct. 20, Rask could not dress for the next three games.
The Bruins play at Florida on Tuesday and at Tampa Bay on Thursday. For now, Rask thinks he’s good to go, even if he’s not 100 percent.
“For sure, yeah,” said Rask. “I felt good. I felt good. No problems there.”
Rask had to be perfect because Howard (35 saves) almost qualified for that classification too. In the second, Tim Schaller intercepted a Mike Green bobble and took off for a shorthanded chance. Schaller thought he had beaten Howard with a high-blocker snipe. But the ex-Maine goalie got a piece of the fourth-liner’s shot with the knob of his stick to keep the game scoreless.
“I knew I had him beat,” Schaller said. “I actually asked [Zane] McIntyre on the bench after that. I was like, ‘Is that lucky for goalies or is that a good save?’ He said, ‘That’s luck.’ ”
Minutes later, Schaller had his revenge. After Moore picked Dylan Larkin’s pocket, the fourth line went back on the attack. Schaller snapped off a sharp-angle shot that slipped under Howard’s glove, thudded off his left pad, and dribbled into the net at 17:11 for the game’s only goal.
It was an appropriate bounce, believed Julien, for a grinder who’s made the most of his opportunity.
“He’s playing hard,” Julien said of Schaller (three shots on goal in 12:47 of play). “He’s playing smart. He’s doing the right things. I think he’s doing everything out there on the ice. A guy like that always comes up with solid games. I thought tonight, he was, without a doubt, one of our better players.”
-30-Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.