BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask continues to make it look easy.
The 27-year-old Boston netminder looked nonchalant Thursday night, as he stifled the NHL’s No. 1 offense in a 3-0 shutout victory. Though the Blackhawks were playing without Patrick Kane, they’re still a team that collectively averages 3.2 goals per game. Yet against Rask, they mustered nothing.
“From my standpoint, I don’t think they got too many chances,” Rask said of the Blackhawks, sharing the credit with his teammates. “What they got, then the guys collected the rebound or I saw the shot. It was a great effort from everybody.”
The Blackhawks finished the night with 28 shots on net, but the entire game could have taken on a different tone if Rask hadn’t stood up to a flurry of early shots. He turned aside a Jonathan Toews wrister aimed for the five hole less than 30 seconds after the opening faceoff, and he then stopped consecutive shots from Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. Chicago went on a power play just 1:38 into the game, and Rask stopped the only shot on the man advantage, a heavy slap shot from Brent Seabrook.
The Bruins then regained their footing and eventually leveled the ice, an opportunity only afforded by the strong play of Rask right out of the gate.
“Especially the first half of the first period, they really came out hard and they came out strong and had some early opportunities there,” head coach Claude Julien said of the Blackhawks. “Until we kind of found our stride a little bit, he kept us in there in that moment and, again, made some big saves. ”
“He’s been our best player all year,” Chris Kelly said of his goaltender. “I think Tuukka has been there all year long to make those big saves for us and give us the confidence that if we don’t play our best hockey, we still have a chance to win. And if we can get some goals and help him out, those chances get even higher.”
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At this point, Rask’s excellence is almost a given. He’s played in 10 games since the Olympic break, allowing four goals in a game once, three goals twice, two goals once and one goal on four occasions, recording a pair of shutouts in that time.
Thursday’s shutout was Rask’s seventh, two more than any other netminder in the league.
Among goaltenders with 40 or more games played, Rask ranks first in save percentage at .931 and first in goals-against average at 2.01. Ben Bishop is closes in save percentage at .926, and Jonathan Quick sits in second in GAA at 2.06.
He’s already reached a career high in games played, and he backstopped Finland to a bronze medal in Sochi, but rather than showing signs of fatigue, Rask is only improving.
“For him, it’s just experience. It’s maturity,” Julien said. “I think every year you’re in the league and you’re No. 1, I think he’s learned how to handle all these games. … The focus and concentration that’s needed to condition for a goaltender like him, who went to the Olympics, I think he’s learned to handle it and understand his body extremely well, so he gets the decent rest and finds a way to stay sharp.”
Last year, Rask was no doubt snubbed in Vezina Trophy voting, perhaps a victim of the short season preventing him from starting enough games to be a real contender in the eyes of voters. This year, with the NHL season entering its final three weeks, the award is only Rask’s to lose. Considering he hasn’t been doing much of that this season, he might want to slide that silver medal over on his mantel to make a little room for a rather large trophy that should be his this summer.
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