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Tuukka Rask In Special Sort Of Zone And Other Leftover Bruins Thoughts

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Tuukka Rask (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask is playing some out-of-his-mind, are-you-kidding-me hockey right now for the Boston Bruins. He is on the type of roll that very few goaltenders ever get to experience at the NHL level, and he’s stopping just about everything that’s coming his way.

Whether it’s a slap shot from the point, a snap shot from the circle, a tricky wrister from behind the goal line or a kick with a skate from the goal mouth, Rask is stopping it.

Of course, in a blowout victory like Boston’s 6-2 win on Monday night over Carolina, the goaltender isn’t always the talk of the town, and that likely won’t be the case with Rask right now. But it should.

In his previous effort on home ice before Monday, Rask stopped all 40 shots sent his way in a 1-0 shutout win over New Jersey. In Montreal on Saturday, he made 27 saves, with the only Canadiens goals going in off Mart Bartkowski and Dennis Seidenberg. If you haven’t been paying attention, those guys play for the Bruins.

And on Monday night, the Hurricanes easily could have jumped out to an early 1-0 or 2-0 lead. Rask stopped Jordan Staal with a blocker save on a back-hand shot from the slot in the opening minute, then made a ridiculous toe save on what looked to be an easy one-time tap-in for Zac Dalpe.

Less than a minute after that dazzling save on Dalpe, Rich Peverley put the puck past Justin Peters for the game’s first goal.

“If he doesn’t stop the puck there, we are behind in the game. And you know how a game changes once a team is up, they sit back,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “If we would’ve fallen behind, it would’ve been tough to come back from.”

Rask remained hot all night, making 18 total saves in the first period, 12 more in the second and 10 more in the third period to tie a season high of 40 saves. He did allow two goals, though the first came after Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton let down in their own zone, and the second bounced off Johnny Boychuk and into the crease before Drayson Bowman punched it in for a score. So it’s not as if Rask has been beaten by much at all lately.

Oh, and after the 6-2 win, it was Rask who was named the game’s No. 1 star. That doesn’t happen much when the winning team scores a touchdown but misses the extra point.

Mind you, this hot streak came after Anton Khudobin had two excellent starts in net, and those came shortly after Rask’s 6-5 shootout loss at home to Montreal, so Rask has not only (hopefully) silenced nonsense talk of a goalie competition on the radio, but he’s also responded incredibly well to his most frustrating game of the year. (It’s true that most of the goals against Montreal that night in Boston weren’t his fault, but it’s a bottom line business. This gif told you how mad Rask was about it.)

Rask probably won’t ever be properly appreciated in Boston until or unless he wins it all, because he took over for a guy who won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe and is remembered for all of those spectacular saves much more than the goals he gave up. But it’s hard to win a Cup, and Rask may never get the opportunity. For now, he has a 1.95 goals-against average (top three in NHL), a .928 save percentage (top three in NHL) and a 17-6-4 record. He’ll still need to prove himself in the playoffs, but I think we can all agree he’s earned the chance to do that.

Of course, it takes much more than a goalie to win 6-2, so let’s tear through some good old-fashioned leftover thoughts.

–Jaromir Jagr has been absolutely awesome to watch and has been worth the price of admission. He has the stats (a goal and two assists in three games), but just watching the guy own the puck (“possess” is not strong enough of a word) in the offensive end and essentially do whatever he wants with it has been pretty incredible to see.

He had this one spin-o-rama pass that actually drew some legitimate “oohs” and “ahhs” from the home crowd, right before he redirected a point shot from in front of the net.

–Plus, for my money, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better snarl in the NHL than this one:

Jaromir Jagr (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jaromir Jagr (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

–While the six goals will get plenty of attention, you just can’t overlook the efforts of Daniel Paille, one of just four forwards without a point on the night. He got stuck out on a very long penalty kill in the second period, as he couldn’t get off the ice with the rest of the unit after the first minute because of the long change. He was on the ice for about 90 seconds, and he ended his shift by breaking up a pass, lying on the ice, blocking a shot and then clearing the puck out of the zone while lying on his backside.

And he did it all with his team leading 5-0.

That’s all effort, all the time. Give that kid a helmet sticker, or something.

–While we’re talking guts, we have to talk Jordan Caron. He’s handled his sporadic time in the lineup pretty well, and he looked good skating with Rich Peverley and Shawn Thornton on Monday. He did not look good getting knocked off his skates in the neutral zone on a thundering hit by Brett Bellemore in the neutral zone midway through the second, but he got back up and scored himself a goal 52 seconds later.

It was his first of the year, and he certainly earned it the hard way.

–Thornton had an opportunity to try to send Caron on a breakaway just before the goal but elected to carry it himself through the neutral zone and toward the net. It looked like Caron nearly tore his groin in an attempt to stop his momentum and stay onside, but he did, and he scored on the rebound seconds later.

Thornton joked after the game, “I didn’t know if he was fast enough to capitalize on the breakaway so I figured the dangerous guy should just keep the puck and make something happen with it.” You can’t argue with Sniper Shawn Thornton. You literally can’t. It’s scary.

–Every Bruins player who spoke after the game discussed at length about how the team needs to improve defensively. It was almost as if they lost, the way they went on and on about how leaky they’ve been in terms of shots and scoring chances allowed. I’d characterize it as Patriot-esque, which I suppose is a fairly successful model for a team to follow.

–Good job, good effort, Justin Peters. He had two saves on four shots, but hey, at least it wasn’t three goals on four shots, right?

–Seidenberg had himself an evening, with a career-high three assists and a plus-4 rating. It’s as if he can sniff the playoffs already.

–The TD Garden cameras showed the players walking down the hallway to the ice before the game, and everyone offered a fist bump to either Shawn Thornton or Milan Lucic on the way. Except for Johnny Boychuk. He gave Thornton a fist bump, then leaned over to let Thornton give him a nice bop in the head. Hockey players, those two.

–Credit to the power play unit for pranking the entire New England region in the third period. I think David Krejci might have faked a slap shot for 13 minutes on that one power play solely to make radio hosts’ and fans’ heads explode and provide some entertaining fodder over the next 48 hours. The Red Sox are back in town, so you gotta do what you can to get that airtime.

–Claude Julien did seem to still be a little ticked off at Saturday night’s shot-free power play to end the game after this one. He said, sort of smiling, sort of not smiling:

“[Jagr] is one of those guys that finds that passing lane. Even on the power play, he had a couple of passes to David Krejci. Those passes are through and you always hope that the guy can shoot the puck … and he decided he wasn’t.”

Yeesh, hardcore zinger right there.

–Claude Julien ended his press conference with one of the most impassioned speeches you could ever see him making. It came in response to a simple question about where the team is at from a physical standpoint, and it touched on a number of important areas that can oftentimes get forgotten by dummies like me and everyone else who yaps and yammers at the television or on the radio when the Bruins don’t play perfect.

Rather than cut it up and try to make my own sense of it, let’s just pass the microphone to Claude:

“I don’t know. There are some guys that could probably finish their checks more, no doubt. You just have to look at the sheet, but at the same time the sheet’s not always accurate. I think as much as we stand here and we, not demand, but we question how could our game be and all that, I’m going to tell you again, like a lot of teams, those players aren’t robots. The schedule has been as tough as it could ever be on an athlete. We’ve got to be careful of how hard we push those guys, because they’re tired. They are tired. I don’t know if anybody’s been through that schedule before of every second day including traveling, and playing, and the expectations of coaches, and you guys, and fans. That’s not an easy situation.”

“So it’s easy for us to criticize — and when I say us, I include ourselves as coaches — but you have to take the time and analyze what’s really going on here. It’s been a real tough schedule and those athletes are put through a grind that they’re not normally put through in a regular season. A regular reason was the first two months that was a regular schedule. You saw how well we played and what our record was, so you have to look at what the schedule has been in the last two months, or last month plus this one and understand that has an effect on our game there’s no ifs or buts about it.”

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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