By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Just as the Bruins planned it, their goalie controversy has become their goalie abundance.
Tuukka Rask made 37 saves and then stopped three of four shootout participants in a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets at TD Garden Thursday, following up Anton Khudobin’s shutout against Buffalo on Tuesday.
Right now, the Bruins can’t go wrong with whichever goaltender coach Bruce Cassidy picks. It’s like old times with both goalies playing a game of “can you top this” – reminiscent of the Tim Thomas-Rask pairings in 2009 and Rask-Khudobin in 2013.
And it doesn’t hurt that no matter which netminder is in the crease, the Bruins are playing a form of defense that resembles their play in their own end from some of their better recent seasons (relative to the fact that their defense is smaller, less experienced and more aggressive to jump up in the play).
“Yeah, I mean you’re always, we’re rooting for each other, but I think the way our team has played in the past month or so, I think it makes our job a lot easier,” Rask said after beating the Jets. “You know we’re defending a lot better than we were … the first month and a half or what not. You know when you do that and you defend as a team, keep most of the shots outside the chances are that … the goals against are going to stay down, stay low, so that’s been the case lately, and I think it’s just an overall team effort.”
Rask has come a long way since his mid-November hiatus, when it looked like Khudobin was going to improbably seize the No. 1 goaltender job. In his past eight starts, Rask has earned the Bruins a point (7-0-1) and he’s allowed 12 goals in that span. He is now 10-8-3 with a .916 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average this season.
In some of his better performances recently, he may have gotten a lot of help from his teammates. The win against the Jets, however, was mostly a Rask production.
With two players (Riley Nash and Ryan Spooner) sidelined by illness, Brad Marchand playing despite not being able to take part in the morning skate, and several other Bruins playing through some sort of sickness, the Bruins played most of regulation like they wanted to be back in bed.
As it turned out, Rask was an unlikely hero to bail out the illness-ravaged Bruins. He was also feeling a bug coming on and said he was extremely tired. Nonetheless, he said he never considered sitting this one out, and that the Bruins needed him.
Over the final 40 minutes of regulation Rask had to make 23 saves on 24 shots. He made six more stops in overtime.
“He knew that we were going to be, I don’t want to say, offensively challenged, but some players out of the lineup, and some players in the lineup that generally give us a lot of offense were going to be fighting it a bit, so he stepped up,” Cassidy said. “That’s part of it. I think team defense has come a long way from the start of the year. We have helped the goalies along. When Tuukka came around, I thought we were playing very well in front of him, and on a night like tonight when he had to be a little bit better, he was.”
The shootout brought a greater challenge, and Rask and the Bruins were immediately in a hole after Bryan Little scored a leadoff goal. Rask’s countryman Patrik Laine could’ve buried the Bruins, but his attempt to trick Rask went awry and the Jets sniper’s one-handed attempt went wide (Rask said he would’ve saved it anyway – wink, wink) despite some faulty intelligence Rask received.
“His move is not that. Our goaltending guru here [Bob Essensa] is telling me a couple of guys’ moves, 100 percenters, and then they do something totally opposite so I just wanted to let my goalie coach know I’m never going to listen to him again,” Rask said with a chuckle.
“[Laine] goes backhand, then he comes back and goes 5-hole, so that’s his move. But he told me he knew that I knew his moves. So he didn’t want to do it again.”
Rask needed a little help from the only person who could give it to him in the shootout and didn’t get it, but he still survived. David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy scored to cap the shootout comeback, helping to make sure Rask was rewarded with a W for his efforts.
Once again the netminder position is the least of the Bruins’ problems and they’re looking like contenders.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.