BOSTON (CBS) – Bruins coach Claude Julien obviously has a feel for the readiness of goaltender Tuukka Rask to take on a heavier workload.
And Rask continued to prove that the more work you give him, the better he gets, as he stopped a career-high-tying 43 shots in a 2-1 road win against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
The win helped the Bruins finish their three-game road trip with a 2-1-0 record, with Rask in net each night.
The easy thing to do for Julien would’ve been to give Rask the night off at Madison Square Garden after the goaltender bounced back from blowing a lead in Ottawa on Friday and beat the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Monday.
But Julien obviously decided that his road-weary team needed its Vezina Trophy favorite between the pipes and his skaters proved him right. Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille had to provide the offense because the other three lines were a notch slow. Boston’s defense corps gave up two breakaways, including one that led to a penalty shot.
Rask made the stop almost every time. Only a Derrick Brassard wrist shot from the left dot on a second-period power play kept Rask from a shutout.
In his NHL career, Rask is now 7-1 in games when he faces 40 or more shots. He also went 3-2 in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he faced more than 40 shots. Last season, Rask played both ends of a back-to-back twice. He lost the front end and won the back end the first time. He dropped both games in the second pair.
Of course, he then lost Game 6 of the first round series with Toronto and won Game 7 on back to back nights – the most important back-to-back the Bruins had played in a couple years.
So now we’re seeing why the Bruins didn’t want to overspend to keep Anton Khudobin. In Chad Johnson, they signed a guy to be the backup and stay sharp even if game appearances are weeks apart. An affable fellow off the ice, Johnson’s not going to rattle the dressing room chemistry with allusions of grandeur. He knows this is Rask’s team and he has to just play his best in his rare starts to maybe earn a bigger role somewhere down the road.
And as far as Rask is concerned, the Vezina nomination that eluded him last season could easily be joined by Hart Trophy consideration if he continues the way he’s played through the first 21 games of the Bruins’ season. His 1.61 goals-against average and .946 save percentage have him near the top of the league and in position to set some league records.
The Bruins don’t want to make a habit of surrendering more than 40 shots per night. But with their back end banged up a bit (Dennis Seidenberg might join Adam McQuaid on the sidelines after leaving the Rangers game one shift in), there might be more shots against than we’re used to seeing the past several seasons in the Julien era. With the defense typically air tight, we haven’t seen a lot of games where the Bruins goaltender has had to singlehandedly earn two points.
Whether there are more games like this in the near future or not, Rask has proven that there’s no workload too large for his talents.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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