THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

First victory is one for the saver to savor

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / November 19, 2010

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As his numbers prior to last night indicated (2.75 goals-against average, .923 save percentage), there haven’t been significant holes in Tuukka Rask’s game. He has competed for pucks. He has moved well from side to side. He has attacked shooters.

But for a goalie who charged through his rookie year and led the Bruins’ late burst into the postseason, 2010-11 has seen Rask’s play dip by just the slightest degree. The shots that Rask once wasted little effort stopping would somehow slither through an opening.

And there was that bold-faced zero next to his name in the win column (0-4-1).

“You feel you’re playing good, but the puck’s just not bouncing your way,’’ Rask said. “That’s all it is.’’

Last night, there was nothing routine about Rask’s performance.

“All night he was there,’’ said Florida coach Peter DeBoer after his team’s 4-0 loss at TD Garden. “It looked like we could have taken 100 shots and we weren’t going to get one. He played great. You have to tip your hat to them, and he played great.’’

Rask stuffed every one of the Panthers’ 41 shots, including 16 in the first period. It was 2009-10 Rask at his peak. Smooth with every movement. Competitive in all situations. Barely fazed amid a flurry of pucks, even one that removed his mask in the second period.

Florida sniper David Booth, who had 14 shots to his name, snapped a wrist shot that caught Rask on the left side of his jaw at 5:05. As a goalie’s mask is designed to do in such scenarios, the straps exploded and his headgear flew off, dissipating any energy that might have otherwise left Rask hearing birdies chirp.

Rask’s response? A smile. It was that kind of night.

“We’ve got a lot of good guys in here, but he’s definitely one of the best team guys around,’’ said Shawn Thornton. “So it’s pretty disappointing in the first few games that we couldn’t get a win for him. Couldn’t get the goals we needed.

“We talked before the game that we wanted to get one for him. It’s great that he capped it off with a shutout, too.’’

Early on, the Panthers had some of their best pressure. Halfway through the first, Jason Garrison flung a long-distance shot that bonked off the left post.

Two minutes later, Booth and Rostislav Olesz broke loose for a two-on-one rush. Booth saw all kinds of space in the net, but Rask pushed from left to right and stepped in front of the left wing’s attempt.

Three minutes later, Milan Lucic scored the first of his three goals to give Rask a 1-0 lead.

“I had to keep it 0-0 there for a long time, then finally got the win,’’ Rask said. “It felt like every time the offense scored when I was playing, we lost the game.’’

The Bruins thought they might gain some separation at 5:08 of the third period when Cory Stillman was sent off for interference. Instead, that’s when their troubles began.

Old friend Dennis Wideman hit Christopher Higgins with a long-distance pass to spring the winger for a shorthanded breakaway. Rask came out of his crease, waited for Higgins to make the first move, and punched out his blocker when Higgins ripped a wrist shot on goal.

Only 20 seconds later, Boston allowed another shorthanded chance. This time, defenseman Bryan Allen jumped into the play, took a pass from Mike Santorelli, and snapped off what he thought might be the tying shot.

Instead, Rask, who had read that Allen was the third man in, stepped out to snatch the shot at 6:16. Allen skated away and looked to the TD Garden ceiling in disbelief.

“The D came in late, the third guy there, and I just tried to get everything out in front of him so he’s got nothing to shoot at,’’ Rask said.

After that, his teammates’ three-goal flurry left Rask with some easy minutes as he coasted to the shutout.

What will Claude Julien do tomorrow against the Kings, one of the Western Conference’s top clubs? Send out Tim Thomas (10-1-0, 1.37 GAA, .959 save percentage, 4 shutouts)? Or see if Rask can post a second straight shutout?

Now, at least, the coaching staff has some options.

“It was the game we were hoping to see from him, for all the right reasons,’’ said Julien.

“He really kept us in the game with some big saves and timely saves. It was good for his confidence and it was good for us to see him play that way.

“If you’re going to get your first win, what better way than a shutout?’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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