BostonBruins.com - When Tuukka Rask slid from right to left and stretched his glove as far as he could Thursday night at TD Garden, he denied the Lightning's Steven Stamkos one step closer to the Rocket Richard and preserved his shutout, with "Tuuuuuuuk" raining down from the Boston faithful.
But more importantly, the Bruins' netminder showcased a Vezina-like ability between the pipes that his team can lean on heading into the postseason.
"That's the kind of performance that can carry your team to long playoffs if he's like that every game," said Coach Julien of the 2-0 shutout of Tampa Bay, where Rask's 30 saves earned him his fifth shutout of the season and 16th of his career.
The five shutouts match his career-high for shutouts in a season, a total he previously reached in 2009-10. His record now stands at 19-9-4 on the season.
"You've seen it in the past, not just from our team, not just from Tim [Thomas], but last year [Jonathan] Quick; teams that win [the Stanley Cup] always have a real good goaltender," said Coach. "There's a lot of pressure on those guys to perform at that level night after night and that's where it's important to be confident and focused and everything else. [Thursday] night, he showed that he was just that."
Rask's focused play wasn't just on display Thursday night. The goaltender may have had off nights during the 2013 campaign, but he has shown his teammates that they can have immediate confidence in him, no matter what, heading into every game.
"He’s been great for us all year. Kind of just expect it now," said Shawn Thornton following Rask's shutout of Tampa. "He’s earned that respect from us."
Regardless of how inspired the highlight-reel saves like the one on Stamkos look to the viewer and fan, the "flashy" saves aren't actually the ones that get this goaltender feeling good.
"No, you know what, those kind of saves, I would say a lot of it is luck, too. You just kind of throw yourself out there," Rask explained, when asked about the save on Stamkos Thursday night. "For me, I get a better feeling when I’m just square and the puck hits me and I don’t give up rebounds."
"It’s pretty easy to get carried away when you make highlight saves, so you just try to stay calm after you make a save like that."
The answer may have been simple, but gave a glimpse at just how ridiculously calm, cool and collected Rask has the ability to stay between the pipes. Sure, there are moments when the frustration shows following a goal allowed - a stick slam here, angry slash there. But all extracurriculars aside, Coach Julien and the Bruins have always noted the calmness of the goalie's game between whistles.
"He's a calming influence back there for us, he's always been very consistent for us all year," said Thornton. "Never have any worries about him when he's between the pipes."
"You want your goalie to feel comfortable to have that poise and feeling like he’s unbeatable," said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "And [Thursday night] it was definitely a game Tuukka did that and he just showed how calm and collected he is back there."
"And just bailing us out a couple times - it’s definitely great to have him back there."
Aside from the elicit "bad game" against Philadelphia for the goalies, in which unlucky bounces and an off night in goal saw Anton Khudobin start and finish the game, with Rask getting time for parts of two periods, the goaltending has been stellar lately for the B's - and all season.
Rask is now coming off two straight starts with shutouts, the first of the span coming in a 3-0 shutout of Florida on Sunday at TD Garden.
"I just try to feel good about myself every single game and feel comfortable out there," said Rask. "If it’s a shutout or not, it doesn’t matter, as long as you play good and you win."
The 26-year-old goaltender's 1.94 goals-against average on Fridayy afternoon ranked third among all goaltenders and first among all who have played at least 30 games this season. His .931 save percentage is tied for second with Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky. Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson currently leads both categories, but with with injury limiting him to only 23 games, Rask technically is tied for the top spot, if you look at the 30 game-plus goaltender pool.
"It’s important for him, obviously, and what we’ve been through," Coach Julien told media Thursday night, on Rask's recent notable play coming after a tough up-and-down last few months of the season for the Bruins.
"I think a lot of players right now, you still see certain guys fighting the puck a little bit, but at the end of the day, our goaltender plays a big role in our success," said Julien.
"You need a guy to stand tall and be good and you need a guy to go into the playoffs with confidence. Hopefully, that’s what Tuukka’s creating here."
And if Rask needs a helping hand, his capable companion in Anton Khudobin has shown the same poise and big-time saves throughout the season that have also lifted the confidence of his teammates.
"We're used to having good goaltending, whether it was last year or this year, the goalies have been really good for us," said Seidenberg on the goalie tandem. "It gives you confidence that not every time you mess up, the [other team is] going to score on you. Having those guys back there definitely helps."
As the regular season nears a close, with Rask's calm confidence on display, he's looking forward to the impending postseason push - something he hasn't been in the driver's seat for since 2009-10.
"Yeah, for sure, it’s been a pretty hectic schedule," Rask said of his excitement of leaving the 48-game regular season and heading into next week and the start of the playoffs.
"The weather is getting nice out there, and it’s the best time of a hockey player’s life."
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