By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins wasted little time welcoming Tuukka Rask back into the lineup Thursday.
Rask was back in net for the first time in three games after he let a minor lower-body injury heal as Anton Khudobin’s backup the past two games, and 1:29 into the contest Kevan Miller was called for a double-minor for high sticking.
To make the start more inauspicious, the Philadelphia Flyers scored nine seconds later to take a 1-0 lead.
But Rask recovered to make 31 saves on the next 32 Flyers shots and the Bruins defeated the Philadelphia 3-2 on Brad Marchand’s goal with 22 seconds left at TD Garden.
The early extra work may have helped Rask shake off any rust that built up during the week since his last start, an 8-4 win against Pittsburgh.
“It always helps. … To me it doesn’t matter if you have a week off or not, it’s always good to get a few shots and then feel the puck,” Rask said. “Today was a four-minute power play, too bad they scored but we battled back and [had a] solid game.”
In improving to 26-11-4 with a .919 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average, Rask adhered to the formula that was worked so well for the Bruins this season whether he or Khudobin has been in net: give up two or fewer goals and let the standings points accumulate.
The Flyers scored their first goal with a little trickery. After Rask stopped Claude Giroux’s initial shot, rookie Nolan Patrick settled the rebound on his stick to the left side of the slot. His options seemed limited, but Patrick made a between-the-legs pass across the slot, past Zdeno Chara and into Jakub Voracek’s wheelhouse for a one-timer that found the back of the net before Rask could get across his crease.
Rask said he saw Voracek and could’ve got across the crease quicker if he’d cheated; but he didn’t want to cheat. Of course, why would he expect Voracek to even get the puck considering the position Patrick was in?
“Anything’s possible,” Rask said.
The Bruins proved there are endless possibilities for what could happen in taking a 2-1 lead. Now that he’s an offensive force, Riley Nash’s 13th goal of the season, which tied the score 1-1, wasn’t that astonishing. But Brian Gionta, a guy weeks removed from playing in the Olympics and months away from skating with an AHL team to stay in shape without a NHL contract, scoring on a breakaway was pretty remarkable. It was Gionta’s first NHL goal in almost a full calendar year.
The Bruins, however, didn’t coast to their fifth straight win because the Flyers tied the score 2-2 on a shorthanded goal by Jori Lehtera. This was the one that had the amateur goaltenders and amateur goaltending analysts up in arms.
After receiving a pass toward the Boston net on a 2-on-1, Lehtera stuffed the puck through Rask’s 5-hole.
“I did kind of [have the pads closed], but he followed through, through my stick,” Rask explained. “It’s one of those that he really jammed it there. But it’s one where if I was tight it wouldn’t have gone in. So it’s kind of tough on there. Give him credit, he really put some power to it and put it through my stick.”
It wasn’t that “soft goal” some were lamenting but it was still one Rask could’ve stopped. He had the pads closed momentarily, then they opened up enough for Lehtera to find the space, and Rask didn’t get his stick down in time to render the force of Lehtera’s shot meaningless. Whether the goal was a sign of Rask still finding his form after time off, or still testing his physical limits with the nagging injury, or just making a human error, the score was tied and the Bruins still had plenty of time to recover.
They did just that and Rask stood tall the rest of the way, including helping kill off a penalty late in the third period. It was a credit to Rask that he stayed poised and focused against the Flyers, a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of goals per game that relies on crashing the net and getting two or three players around the blue paint in an effort to grind out their goals.
“Well, that’s where, I thought, he looked like himself again, looked sharp in there,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He was under control. … I thought he did a good job, because Philly is good at that. They’re really good at getting their bodies in front and getting second chances – showed in their first goal.”
Rask benefited from strong play in front of him, including the return to the lineup by Adam McQuaid, who specializes in clearing bodies and the puck from the home plate area. But the Bruins benefited most of all from the return of their No. 1 goaltender.
“Yeah he’s been the backbone of our team all year. Him and Doby,” Marchand said. “And tonight’s another example of that. He played big.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.