By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Earlier this month, when the Bruins were about two-thirds of the way through their current 17-game point streak, coach Bruce Cassidy boasted that he wasn’t worried about his players losing their edge during their run of success for several reasons, including that they hadn’t been relying on their goaltender to steal them games.
Well Cassidy can scratch that off the list of reasons.
The Bruins leaned on Tuukka Rask to make 37 saves in a 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden on Tuesday in their fourth straight win and their 13th win in their past 17 games (13-0-4).
“I thought Tuukka was our best player,” Cassidy said.
It was the first time in three starts and the third time in eight starts Rask faced more than 30 shots. Although he’s been impenetrable when he’s had to be, the Bruins defense, and more often than not, their ability to be on the attack in the offensive zone the majority of the time have combined to make life less strenuous for their goaltenders. This time around it was Rask who got the greatest workout.
It all started with a 20-shot first period, which the Bruins escaped with the score 0-0.
“There’s a lot of traffic and a lot of tip stuff,” Rask said about the Devils’ offensive approach. “They get shots through and they crash the net hard. So a lot of times you can’t let guys bump into and nick your skates so you end up sideways and whatnot. But you know it’s a battle sometimes, goalies have to battle through stuff like that too and just try to stay as compact as possible I guess.”
Rask battled through but allowed two goals in the second period. Miles Wood beat him with a perfect tip and Damon Severson got him as the late man on a 3-on-2. In the third period, Rask was back to perfect. He made 12 saves, including two stops on one Severson breakaway. He denied defenseman Sami Vatanen several times in the closing few minutes, including during a late New Jersey power play.
Rask’s own point streak is at 17 games (15-0-2) and his save percentage is up to .923, tied for ninth in the NHL. His even-strength save percentage is .929 and since his last regulation loss on Nov. 26, his overall save percentage is .941.
It would be hard for any goaltender to keep up at the sort of pace, and Rask is no different. There are going to be nights when he’ll need the Bruins to bail him out. Busy nights might become more the norm as the Bruins cement their reputation as one of the premier defensive teams in the league and both goaltenders play as though they want to challenge for the Jennings Trophy.
During their heyday under Claude Julien the Bruins would go through stretches where they’d surrender high shot totals because teams would get frustrated and shoot from everywhere. As Cassidy said, the Devils “funneled” shots through to the net throughout the game Tuesday. Considering they came closer than most to actually defeating the Bruins without extra time, other teams are certain to imitate New Jersey’s game plan.
“It’s a great game plan,” Rask said. “When a team’s desperate like they are, get that forecheck going and try to create havoc in front of the net, which they did. A lot of times we talk about it too, that’s something we want to do because then you start getting the second and third opportunities because a lot of time you’re not going to score with that first shot, you have to create something on second and third pucks. And that’s what they were doing.”
Rask seems up to handling more work. He’s played in 31 games; Khudobin 17. The league took a break for Christmas and a few weeks later the Bruins had their bye week. The All-Star break will give Rask three more off days after the Bruins play in Ottawa on Thursday.
“The workload’s been good,” Rask said. “I think Doby’s been tremendous and we’ve shared the net a lot. I think that’s good because like we said we want to be fresh come March and April. So that’s good.”
The Bruins don’t want to become a team that relies on its goaltender to put on a show. And an increase in the amount of shots doesn’t mean life for Rask (and Khudobin) will be that much more difficult based on quality. But if there’s an increase in the number of busy nights, Rask seems ready to do his part to help the Bruins challenge for first place down the stretch.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.