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The Bruins remain on a roll, stashing away wins (three straight after Sunday’s 4-1 triumph over the Panthers), and owners of the Eastern Conference’s top winning percentage (.800) headed into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Islanders at Uniondale, N.Y.
“Three pretty solid games in a row — it’s always good,’’ said goalie Tuukka Rask, reached by phone Monday afternoon after the club’s brief workout at Nassau Coliseum. “But you know what, I think we have played pretty good as a team, too. I mean, I haven’t done anything too spectacular with saves or . . . ’’
Rask, in net for all three of those wins (Winnipeg, Tampa, then Florida), gave up but five goals, turning back 80 of 85 shots. He has a 9-1-2 record, a 1.97 goals-against mark, and a .925 save percentage, placing him comfortably among the league leaders in all three categories and reaffirming his standing as the workhorse of the Boston net with the club’s work schedule entering a game-every-other-night phase for the duration of the regular season and the playoffs.
If the Bruins go all the way to the Cup final, it’s possible they won’t get a breather until the end of June. Hold a spot for them at the July 4 weekend BBQ. Such is the legacy of the 2012-13 lockout.
“I think we are just going to go weekly, game by game, and see how I feel and how I play,’’ said Rask, asked what he thinks might be an optimum workload for him now with the schedule about to get grueling. “But it’s tough to say. I think we play 17 games in March, but it’s tough to put a number on it.’’
Meanwhile, the days on Rask’s contract are dwindling, as if in lockstep with his goals-against mark. Unable to come to terms on a long-term agreement after last season, he ultimately signed a one-year bridge deal worth $3.5 million. The contract expires at the end of the regular season and he’ll again be a restricted free agent, able to field offers from 29 other teams as of July 5.
But don’t bet on Rask going anywhere. General manager Peter Chiarelli has made a habit of tying up the club’s young core players and would have done that with Rask last summer if he and agent Bill Zito could have agreed on fair per-annum value on, say, a four- or five-year pact.
If Rask’s numbers remain strong, Zito could be shopping for the same kind of extension that Chiarelli gave forwards Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic, whose combined deals will average just under $6 million per year when their new contracts begin in October. Hard to argue a club’s No. 1 backstop making less than one of Boston’s top six forwards.
“I talk to Peter frequently, about lots of things’’ said Zito, reached Monday at his office in Chicago. “And I am sure I will be talking to him about Tuukka again in the not-too-distant future. But that said, the most important thing is for this not to be a distraction to Tuukka or to anyone else. Right now, the hockey’s the most important thing.’’
Zito also still represents Tim Thomas, Boston’s former No. 1 goalie whose rights were traded three weeks ago to the Islanders. But the Bruins won’t see Thomas in the Islanders net or on their bench Tuesday night. According to Zito, the two-time Vezina winner remains in Colorado with his family, still undecided whether he wants to resume his NHL career.
“Nothing’s changed,’’ Zito said. “I got a lot of calls and e-mails last week when [the Islanders] put [Rick] DiPietro on waivers. But nothing’s changed with Timmy.’’
No telling if Rask gets the start on Long Island or if coach Claude Julien opts to go with backup Anton Khudobin. For his part, Rask planned a quiet Monday evening, sticking close to the hotel and eschewing a trip west to Manhattan. “Hang here and get some rest,’’ he said. “It’s been a long trip.’’ . . . Six NHL goalies this season are under deals that pay $6 million or more: Pekka Rinne ($7m), Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875m), Carey Price ($6.5m), Cam Ward ($6.3m), Ryan Miller ($6.25m), and Niklas Backstrom ($6m) . . . One of Rask’s teammates this season in Plzen (Czech Republic) during the lockout: Ondrej Havlicek. Rask until Monday was unaware that the green-trimmed No. 17 hanging in the Garden rafters belongs to former Buckeye John Havlicek . . . Islanders forward John Tavares keeps getting better and better, especially impressive on a team that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in any of his first three seasons. The No. 1 pick in 2009, Tavares finished his first three seasons with 54, 67, and 81 points, respectively. He enters the game against the Bruins with marks of 13-12—25 in 19 games. If this were an 82-game season, he would be on a pace for 108 points . . . The Bruins are back on Causeway Street Thursday night to face the Senators, then entertain the Lightning in a Saturday matinee with the Habs here on Sunday night.