Malcolm Subban needed this one.
The 23-year-old former first-round pick was about to settle for the No. 3 spot in the Bruins goalie rotation, and the ensuing trip down to Providence, when he pulled a sharp-as-nails performance out of his new skates.
Until Monday night’s 4-2 preseason victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, he struggled to succeed with the Bruins. In his four years with the organization, mostly spent with the AHL Bruins, Subban had twice tried and failed to play in the NHL, getting yanked from a start against the Blues in February 2015 after giving up three goals on six shots, and then again from a game against the Wild in October 2016 after yielding three goals on 16 shots. He was returned to Providence as quickly as possible.
A fractured larynx, suffered in February 2016, also set him back. Zane McIntyre became the go-to goalie in Providence.
So while it was only a preseason game, when Subban kicked out three rapid-fire shots in a dramatic third-period flurry Monday — sliding across in his butterfly to reach one shot — he got a roaring Boston crowd on his side.
Moreover, he always has been touted as marvelously athletic, and in this instance, he was marvelously athletic. In all, he had 24 saves, 14 in the final period.
“I’m not going to lie — it felt pretty good,’’ said Subban, allowing himself a big grin.
But he was quick to jump back into character.
“I just try to stay focused,” he said. “It was tough. I wouldn’t get shots, then I’d get a flurry, then no shots.
“I was just trying to stay focused even after that and just trying to keep playing my game and stay focused pretty much.”
McIntyre was sent to Providence Sunday, so Subban got his chance to play.
“When I first got here, before camp started, I felt like I was all right,’’ Subban said. “But I feel like I’m getting better and better and I keep on improving; that’s what I’m focused on.”
Subban is unlikely to get more playing time in the preseason, so it’s probably back to Providence. Except he will have to clear waivers, leaving him vulnerable to another team that wants to take a chance that he’s ready to fulfill all that potential.
Though he hasn’t bumped Anton Khudobin from the job of backup to Tuukka Rask, he did gain some essential confidence Monday night.
And perhaps showed enough that his bosses would be comfortable recalling him if Rask or Khudobin get injured.
“You get limited viewing in training camp — you only get a game, a game and a half — so you have to make the best of it, and he did,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He was very good.’’
Chicago scored twice. Subban gave up a sharp-angle tip by Brandon Saad when he strayed from his right post, then later was beaten by a wrist shot from the right circle by John Hayden.
“We had some breakdowns at different times in the game,” Cassidy said. “Specifically, late there where it could have been scary. But he did his job. He was good. Very pleased with him.”
Cassidy expects Rask to start Thursday (at Philadelphia) and Khudobin Saturday (at Chicago), and then the preseason auditions are over.
Asked if he would consider starting the season with three goalies, Cassidy deferred to general manager Don Sweeney but added, “I doubt it.”
. . .
The Bruins signed forward Jack Studnicka, 18, to a three-year entry-level contract. The Bruins selected Studnicka in the second round (53rd overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft . . . The Bruins sent forward Ryan Fitzgerald and defenseman Jeremy Lauzon to Providence.