Tuukka Rask has been phenomenal this season. At 12-5 with a 1.62 GAA prior to Monday night’s game, the Finnish netminder, fresh off an eight-year contract extension, is the early favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. Arguably the league’s best goaltender in the playoffs last season, Rask has continued his overall dominance, leading the league in just about every goaltending category.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins in town, seeking more redemption from the borderline embarrassing sweep in the Eastern Conference Final this past spring, the Bruins would have their hands full.
Early in the first period, the Pens had the best of the scoring chances. Hitting the post and following it up with a power play, the Pens outshot the Bruins 9-1, but Rask remained strong in net stymieing the offensive powerhouse.
“I don’t know if it’s good, but for me, it’s better to get action early and get yourself in the game, “ said Rask following Monday night’s game. “We’ve had some games that, in the first 15 minutes, you don’t get any shots and then you’re kind of getting out of a rhythm a little bit. I felt good after that. You just try to give your team to get that lead, get that first goal. Today we did that.
Holding ground proved beneficial for Rask and the Bruins, who garnered momentum on a beautiful broken-play goal by Loui Eriksson, and followed it up with another fine tally, this one coming on the power play by other Bruins newcomer Reilly Smith.
While the score could have easily favored the Pens 2-0, Rask’s tremendous play at the start kept the Bruins it, giving them enough time to establish a lead- exactly what an elite netminder is supposed to do.
The Pens continued to out-chance the Bruins in the second period, using quick transitions and strong entries to get great looks on Rask, but the goalie remained at the top of his game. Neutral zone play was problem for the Bruins, who gave Pittsburgh far too much ice to work with.
“I just don’t think we were sharp tonight,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien in his postgame press conference. “They got through the neutral zone very easily tonight where normally we don’t give teams that much space in the neutral zone or that much luxury. We were off a little bit. Again, it’s not to say we were a bad team but we weren’t as sharp as we can be when we’re at the top of our game.
The coach, of course, was pleased with the end result.
Despite a James Neal tally early in the middle frame, Rask and the Bruins maintained a 2-1 lead after two periods of play.
After tying the game 2-2 off of a poor defensive-zone turnover by Johnny Boychuk – another Neal goal for the Pens – the game’s pace picked up entirely.
Minutes after the game-tying goal the Bruins got the lead right back, when Sidney Crosby mistakenly tipped a Zdeno Chara point shot past his goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Just when Bruins fans thought they had the game in the books, the team took their foot off the pedal and let up an extra-attacker goal, to Crosby, with only .03 seconds left on the clock.
Rask, whose short temper has been well documented, was extremely happy with how his team responded to the last-second goal, a result of poor net-front coverage by the Boston defensemen.
“Things happen and it doesn’t matter when the goals get scored,” said Rask. “Honestly, you’re always kind of mad about that, but we didn’t let that bother us. We went out there in overtime and took the puck to their zone and then scored a goal. I think that’s a great sign for a hockey team that you don’t get down on yourself after a goal like that.”
The Bruins got an overtime winner from Torey Krug to maintain their position atop the Eastern Conference.
Next they face the Detroit Red Wings in Motor City on Wednesday night.
FROM THE ROOM