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Kalman: One Bad Goal Per Night Not What Bruins Can Afford From Rask

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
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Tuukka Rask. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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WILMINGTON (CBS) – With the exception of oil, there aren’t too many useful things to be found in Texas.

And considering how harmful the old black gold is to the environment, it’d probably be better if that state kept its exports to itself.

But come Thursday the Bruins are hoping they discover a couple positive things in the Lone Star State – a consistent team game and stingier goaltending from Tuukka Rask. Considering the Bruins’ lineup has been in flux and the defensive corps is a little banged up, it’d be a lot easier to find the former if the latter would return to form on the road against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night and beyond.

Aside from a shutout in San Jose last Saturday, Rask’s game has been a little off-center. He let in at least one goal against Toronto on Tuesday that should land in the glove of all 60 NHL goaltenders currently on active rosters. Considering Boston came up one goal shy of tying the Maple Leafs, that goal was a costly one.

Rask’s ongoing work with goaltending coach Bob Essensa continued Wednesday during practice at Ristuccia Arena. Rask quipped that most of what he works on with Essensa is kidding around, but considering Essensa has worked with Rask since he landed in North America seven years ago, fewer people know Rask and his game better than Boston’s goaltending coach.

So the solutions are accessible, and Rask should be on his way to finding them considering his willingness to admit he has a problem. The 26-year-old goaltender might be stubborn about letting any pucks get behind him, but he’s more than willing to make adjustments when needed.

“If you take the San Jose game out, they’d be one-goal games, but then there’s been that goal that I kind of should’ve had to make it a two-goal game. So that’s kind of tough,” Rask said. “But then again, it happens and you hardly get any shots, you don’t feel the puck and then you’re supposed to make that save. But that’s just one of the cons of being a goalie. You got to take it. You’ve got to take being a hero and take being the bad guy sometimes. And lately it’s been too much of the bad guy, but we’re confident that we’re going to bounce back.”

In the three games (all losses) over the past four that sandwiched that shutout, Rask has allowed 13 goals. He was pulled in one of those games and has been yanked by coach Claude Julien twice in the past month. The Bruins have come to expect Vezina-worthy performances every night from Rask dating back to last season. Instead, he’s been an average goaltender. Sure, the Bruins are making due without Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton. But the shot totals and quality chances haven’t increased that much. And also, the Bruins are paying Rask the GDP of a small nation to make up for any defensive deficiencies that personnel struggles or injuries bring. The NHL is a goalie-oriented league. The goalies get paid a premium and the Bruins count on Rask to be the best as often as humanly possible.

Julien prefers to leave the diagnosing of his goaltenders’ problems to Essensa. But then Essensa isn’t permitted to speak publicly about the goaltenders to anyone that’s not team personnel. Maybe he’ll get a starring role in an upcoming episode of “Behind the B.” Rask’s understandably reticent about discussing the specifics of his game.

However, it’s become obvious Rask’s anticipation, which at times can seem superhuman, has tailed off as of late. Too often, it’s luck that the puck’s hitting him or he’s just making a save at the last second. Maybe he’s not physically fatigued, but mentally worn down a bit. It could just be a mental funk, the type we all get into sometimes when our work gets repetitive.

Julien threw out other possibilities for Rask’s troubles without committing to one as the all-encompassing reason.

“Is it that [his anticipation], is it a little bit of confidence that’s lacking, is it not having the swagger he normally has? That’s one position I don’t really spend a lot of time working with because it’s a special position. And what I do is I yank him when I feel I need to yank him and put the other goaltender in. It’s as simple as that,” Julien said. “You know … I think it’s easy to look at a goaltender and say he’s really struggling vs. looking at a player because he’s surrounded by other players. So he’ll stick out a little bit more. And that’s why maybe sometimes we are very protective of our goaltenders.”

That protection only goes so far. Like it or not, the goaltender is out there on an island for all to see and even a vision-impaired squirrel can tell if a goal was stoppable or not. The critics will keep clamoring until Rask silences them. Everything’s big in Texas, so it’ll be up to Rask to come up big against the Stars.

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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