Tuukka Rask makes it clear that, like most goalies, he is not a fan of the shootout. Especially when Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey’s first shooter, kicks off the game-deciding segment with a whippy shot into the net. Seeing such a snapper whiz past does little to jack up any goaltender’s confidence.
Like it or not, Rask’s job is to stop every puck he can in the shootout. Aside from Kovalchuk’s successful attempt, he did just that. In succession, Rask turned back Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, and Jacob Josefson.
By the time he stuffed Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey’s sixth and final shooter, Rask let a flurry of fist pumps fly to celebrate his team’s 2-1 shootout win Tuesday night at TD Garden.
“I don’t think you ever feel too comfortable, because it’s not a practice situation,” Rask said. “I just tried to stay patient and make the saves.”
Rask’s teammates didn’t feel their freshest. The Bruins were coming off a 5-3 road win over Carolina. They had touched down at Hanscom Field at approximately 1 a.m. Tuesday morning. They were facing New Jersey’s airtight defense.
Rask, meanwhile, was rested. Against the Hurricanes, he sat for the first time this season. Anton Khudobin, Rask’s backup for the first four games, earned his first start.
“It’s always nice to rest,” Rask said. “I think it’s more important to get Dobby a game too. Get him in the groove and get him in the game rhythm. I think it’s not so much about me getting rest than him getting in.”
So on Tuesday, when his weary teammates needed him to stand tall, Rask did just that.
“It was tough to get our legs going,” center David Krejci said. “But we found a way. Tuukka played great tonight. There were so many times in the game, especially in the shootout. It’s good to have him. We can count on him. He’s going to win us some games. Tonight was one of those nights.”
Rask (25 saves) didn’t see much rubber early. By his count, Rask stopped two pucks in the first 10 minutes. That was no surprise. The Devils are a defense-first team.
“It was a slower start for me,” Rask said. “I only had two shots in the first 10 minutes. They had a couple back-door plays. I was able to keep them out. As the game went on, it was a typical Devils game. They don’t give you those good shots to make you feel comfortable. They try and get traffic in front of you and get those back-door plays.”
The only regulation goal Rask allowed was one he saw at the last moment. It took place in the second period after Johnny Boychuk was called for tripping. Before Boychuk was sent off, the Bruins killed off 24 straight opposing power plays.
Neither Rask nor his penalty killers could do much to keep the streak alive. Zidlicky, New Jersey’s point man, walked the blue line from right to left. As Zidlicky wound up, Clarkson found a seam between Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara.
Zidlicky brought the hammer down on a slap shot. Rask had the shot lined up. But at the last moment, Rask saw Clarkson get a piece of the puck. He couldn’t readjust to stop the deflected puck, which flew by at 8:30 of the second.
“I didn’t know who it was,” Rask said. “I saw it hit a shaft or something. I saw it all the way. Those kind of deflections, there’s nothing you can really do. It either hits you or it doesn’t. This time, it went in.”
Clarkson had several more sniffs in the third period. In the opening minute, Rask had to flash a pad to keep Clarkson’s shot out of the net. Later, Clarkson set up for an off-wing one-timer. Rask read the play, shifted to his right, and was square to Clarkson to stop the puck.
In overtime, Henrik Tallinder was open in the slot. Tallinder snapped off a shot that Rask swatted aside.
Then it was the shootout. Rask emptied his playbook. He stayed at home for Elias’s approach and forced the center to take a late shot off the post. Rask hit the deck and poke-checked the puck away from Zajac.
Zidlicky, the Devils’ final shooter, has one of the team’s hardest slappers. But Rask wasn’t thinking slapper. Rask knows that Zidlicky has soft hands in tight. When Zidlicky missed with his shot, it proved Rask right.