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Rask against time

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  February 7, 2013 08:35 AM

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Thus far, Tuukka Rask’s young legacy in Boston has been that of a goalie with promise, an athlete who worked in the shadow of Tim Thomas, shining at moments, only to serve as one of the main cogs in the Bruins’ collapse against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 NHL playoffs.

Of course, Thomas is now gone, presumably to resurface a year from now when the Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi, Russia, and through nine games of this hockey sprint (already almost 19 percent through the regular season) to the postseason Rask has proven himself to be every bit of the netminder the Bruins hoped he’d be when they stole him from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Andrew Raycroft.

The biggest question heading into this shortened season was whether Rask could take the reins from Thomas and become a bona fide No. 1 goalie. Flashes are one thing, consistency is another. But after Wednesday night, a thoroughly entertaining 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, a game which featured Claude Julien’s remarkable instinct to switch up the Bruins’ top line, and, yes, another pathetic display by the power play unit, Rask emerged on a national TV stage and cemented himself as one of the top assets in the game.

Tuukka Time, indeed.

If you haven’t already, give the above clip of Rask’s save on Montreal’s Lars Eller a worthy view. That is a big boy save, a sign that Rask is cool, collected, and ready to take his spot as the Bruins’ main man in net, a signal we’ve noted through each game he’s played this season, minus last week’s hiccup against the Buffalo Sabres, when most every player on the ice gagged in Boston’s only loss of the season.

Rask stopped 20 of Montreal’s 21 shots, and the only goal he allowed was an unfortunate bounce off of teammate Rich Peverley’s skate stick. Only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson and Chicago’s Corey Crawford have played more minutes this season and have lower GAA’s than Rask’s 1.97. In four of the six games he’s played, Rask has allowed two goals or fewer, and had five games in which he’s allowed one goal or fewer.

As well as Rask played last night, he likely would have come down with the loss had Julien not headed into the third period, with the Bruins down 1-0, by shaking up his top line, teaming David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, and Milan Lucic, who went on the score twice on their first two shifts. It is, indeed, that sort of impulse that we tend not to appreciate about Julien, who is rising in the ranks of the best coaches in Bruins history, something about two to three people could probably say they saw coming when he was hired. And they’re lying.

But Julien and Doug Houda’s approach to the power play simply has to be addressed. The Bruins are now 3-for-34 on the man-advantage after Wednesday’s 0-4 showing. Only the New York Rangers have a worse percentage (3-for-35), but the running joke about how inefficient Boston’s power play has become is reaching levels of ridiculousness. No disrespect to Ryan Spooner, but why is Ryan Spooner on the power play??

No other franchise has won a Stanley Cup with a more pathetic power play than the Bruins had during the 2010-11 season, and one has to wonder how much of a difference a guy like Marc Savard would make. The team tried Tomas Kaberle to remedy the situation that season with dreadful results. Thomas Vanek has as many power play goals as the Bruins have this season, and the way he played against them the other night, he could double that number when the teams face off on Sunday night in Buffalo.

The Bruins’ power play has become going to McDonald’s. You initially welcome the idea, but totally regret it two minutes later.

Clearly, it’s too much to ask of Rask to have a postseason like Thomas did in 2011, an otherworldly stretch we’re not likely to see again for some time in Boston. The Bruins’ goal differential (24-20) is of some concern, despite their 7-1-1 record thus far, even if Seguin hasn’t really heated up quite yet (Interesting to note that the Tampa Bay Lightning, known for Guy Boucher’s trap approach to the game, have scored 40 goals against 23 allowed, among the best differentials in the NHL). In many ways, that speaks to how well Rask has played in most every game in net.

Wednesday night against the Habs may not exactly have been a coming out party, but it opened a lot of eyes and proved what Rask has developed into. The speculation about whether he can be the man to lead the Bruins has filtered into confidence.

But clearly, this was his most impressive save against Montreal.

Plekanic.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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