Jim Davis/Globe Staff
With little fanfare — except perhaps on sports talk radio — Tuukka Rask was named the Bruins’ starter in goal against the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning and was a 3-2 winner Wednesday night at TD Garden. It was Rask’s first win since Nov. 6 vs. Minnesota.
“I don’t know if there is one thing in particular,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, when asked the determining factor in choosing Rask over backup Anton Khudobin. “He hasn’t played a lot lately. Anton has. It’s been well-documented that he’s playing well.”
On Tuesday, Cassidy emphasized the need for Rask, 3-8-2 going into the game, to get his game back in synch.
“The best way to do that is get him starts,” noted Cassidy.
Rask was in net Sunday after moving to the backup role for nearly two weeks. In that stretch, Khubobin turned in four straight victories, leading some in the ever-opinionated Black-and-Gold fan base to proclaim Khudobin the obvious choice to be the No. 1 tender.
That day may come for Khudobin, but it’s not now, with the season but a third complete and Rask, on the books at $7 million cap hit, still considered the franchise stopper. But Rask must start producing W’s soon, otherwise Cassidy will have little choice but to turn to the still-undefeated Khudobin (7-0-2).
“I think the team plays well in front of both goaltenders,” said Cassidy. “And other nights, we need to be better. I think we’ve played well in front of Tuukka a lot of nights.”
Sunday was not one of those games. The Bruins showed up dead on double-runners for the 5 p.m. puck drop with the Oilers and were rubbed out, 4-2, with Leon Draisaitl providing the final strike into an empty net. Earlier in the year, the Bruins were similarly flat in back-to-back Rask starts vs. Colorado, Oct. 9-11.
“The other night,” said Cassidy, “we were not good — in terms of our jump and energy. We were not horrible defensively. We just didn’t have a lot of pushback, didn’t extend a lead, didn’t have what it takes to pull away.”
As for Rask’s work Sunday, Cassidy labeled it “solid.”
“The first goal, he was off his angle,” noted Cassidy. “Second one was in off our foot [with Charlie McAvoy trying to fend off Milan Lucic]. The third one was a good shot.
“So, the first one was a stoppable puck, and as I’ve said before, a lot of times with Tuukka it comes down to one save or one goal at the other end. If Frank Vatrano scores late — does great work, recovers a puck and [a shot] doesn’t go in — then maybe we end up getting a win.
“Ideally, we’d like [Rask] to go in and throw up a 5-0 shutout — but listen, that’s a lousy way to prepare. You have to prepare to be in close games and do what it takes to win.”
McAvoy’s 28:11 in ice time did not overly concern Cassidy, especially since the Bruins don’t play again until Saturday in Philadelphia. But the Bruins are figuring the young blueliner will hit a wall around mid-season, like most players their first year out of college, and his time will have to be monitored.
“I’ll sit down with Kevin,” said Cassidy, referring to assistant coach Kevin Dean, who oversees the defensemen. “I think that is something you have to be mindful of . . . We don’t play til Saturday, so if you are going to do it, today’s the day. And [Tampa] is one of the best offensive teams in the league, so you have to be mindful of your matchups.”
Impressive return for David Backes, back after needing a month to recover from colon surgery aimed at clearing up an infection related to two recent bouts of diverticulitis.
The 33-year-old veteran center/wing logged 18 minute, 58 seconds worth of ice time, fired seven shots (two made it to the net) and he was impressive at the dot, winning 7 of 10 drops, while workhorse drawman Patrice Bergeron went 16-for-28.
He also delivered a game-high five hits.
“I think I felt better than I expected to feel,” said Backes. “Four weeks off, and twentysomething games into the season, everyone is hitting their stride and trying to catch up after 10 days sitting around and not doing anything is a bit of a challenge.”
Veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid, sidelined since sustaining a leg fracture from a shot Oct. 15 against the Vegas Golden Knights, skated on his own briefly in the day-of-game workout in Brighton.
McQuaid, 31, played in only six games (0-1—1) prior to exiting, and his is among a rash of injuries that have struck across the lineup.
Through the first 22 games this season prior to the matchup vs. Tampa, only seven Bruins had played in every game. By contrast, 14 Tampa players had suited up for all 24 of the Bolts’ games.
The Bruins held an optional workout in the morning, allowing players in need of rest to remain off skates.
Among the notable absentees: Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara. Marchand missed the previous six games (and 8 of 10) with an undisclosed injury.
Come game time, Marchand, Chara, and Backesall were in the lineup.
Marchand had two assists in 22:09 and Chara logged 23:52.
Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci did not suit up against Tampa. DeBrusk was hurt Sunday vs. the Oilers, and Krejci aggravated an injury that recently sidelined him for 11 games.
DeBrusk, 2-4—6 over his last six games in the wake of being a healthy scratch on Nov. 11, appeared to rattle his head against the glass early in Sunday’s game when he was nailed by the Oilers’ Darnell Nurse.
Anders Bjork, cranked by a Matt Martin open-ice hit on Nov. 11, also skated in the morning for the first time since his injury (believed to be a concussion or whiplash). He did not suit up vs. Tampa, but there is a chance he’ll dress for Saturday’s 1 p.m. matinee in Philly.
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