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Cool Hand Tuukk Stays Hot for Bruins

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - Tuukka Rask has the best career goals-against average and save percentage of all active NHL goaltenders who have played in 25 or more games.

Throughout his 146-game NHL career (heading into October 26 vs New Jersey), Rask has allowed an average of 2.10 goals per game and has saved, on average, .928 of the 4,004 shots that he has faced.

These numbers include his first eight games of the 2013-14 campaign, in which he has allowed just 10 goals against, with his latest lights-out performance coming against the first place San Jose Sharks on October 24 at TD Garden.

The Bruins were outshot 39-17 in the eventual 2-1 win, with Rask earning 38 saves. He stopped all 16 shots he faced in a dominating first period by the Sharks and their league-leading offense, which had scored and average of 4.3 goals per game before falling to the B's 2-1.

His night earned him the First Star, and allowed the squad in front of him to finally break through with Jarome Iginla's first as a Bruin late in the second period. David Krejci's buzzer beater with just 0.8 left in the third earned Boston their fourth straight victory and handed San Jose its first loss in regulation this season.

It was a team effort starting from the goal. Without Tuukka playing the way that he has... that’s why I think he’s been our MVP thus far.Milan Lucic

"It was a team effort starting from the goal. Without Tuukka playing the way that he has…" Milan Lucic said postgame.

"That’s why he gets paid the big bucks," he smirked. "And that’s why I think he’s been our MVP thus far."

"Well there’s no question that Tuukka played a really solid game," added Adam McQuaid, whose shot with the clock winding down led to Krejci's tip for the win, something that wouldn't have been possible without Rask.

"He gave us a chance to win, kept us in there and made some big saves for us and there’s going to be nights we’re going to need that and without some of the saves he made, it could have been a different game."

With the Sharks coming in unbeaten during regulation, many had pinpointed this as the biggest test so far this season for the Bruins, aside from maybe facing the Colorado Avalanche.

When asked about the build-up to the game, Rask coolly gave his response. (Boston Globe reporter Kevin Paul Dupont once labeled him "Cool Hand Tuukk" and it stuck with me.)

"Really? I thought nobody was talking about it because of the World Series?"

But they were - at least in the hockey world - because of the measuring stick San Jose posed, being at the top of the league.

Rask's last game had been the 5-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 19. He had two solid days of practice with goaltending coach Bob Essensa also around, and a morning skate in Buffalo. Overall, though, the rest doesn't account for much if another aspect isn't there.

"At the end of the day, it’s just if you’re mentally ready, it’s going to be all good," said Rask.

Being prepared helped him shut down the Sharks, who came out rested and firing, even in the first few minutes with a power play opportunity, when Rask started his night off by robbing Logan Couture in close.

He also turned away Patrick Marleau point blank, and rookie sensation Tomas Hertl with a pad stop after a bounce off the glass.

"I just wanted to get a good start," said Rask. "Sometimes it’s better when you face a lot of shots in the first period, you kind of get yourself in the game if you were able to save the pucks.  It’s more of a mental challenge, to force yourself to be at work and fully aware of what’s going on out there. Lucky that they had so many shots and I was able to save all of them in the first." 

Even with shots ending up 39-17, Rask didn't necessarily feel it as lopsided in scoring chances, though Sharks clearly had the upper hand.

But Rask likes the upped pressure, especially early in a game.

"It’s up there probably," said the netminder, when asked if it was his toughest game so far this season. "I thought they had some really good chances; yeah, probably up there."

His performance repeatedly brought out the "Tuuuuuuk" chants from the Garden faithful. Rask thrives on pressure, especially early, and he had to be ready from the drop of the puck, given his team's back-to-back situation.

"I think if I’m the coach of the other team I would tell myself, ‘Probably deserved better,'" Julien said following the win. But when you’re coaching the team that won you say, ‘Good job’ to your team because I thought we did a good job of – we use the term 'weathering the storm.'"

"They had a great game plan and Tuukka just stood tall and kept us in the game."

The win gave the Bruins their fourth straight win and Rask his sixth victory of the season.

You love challenges as a goalie. You want to challenge yourself every day and every game, and push yourself - and that’s about it.Tuukka Rask

"I think we’re headed in the right direction for sure," said the netminder, of his team's performance nine games in.

"Past couple of games, we got the scoring. You know, you score five goals a game, that doesn’t happen every day for us, and still defensively, I think we’re playing really good for the most part, and every line is going. We've got that Merlot Line – they seem to give us that spark we always needed, and everybody has fires too, so I think we’re headed in the right direction." 

And for him, personally...

'What's it like trying to match or surpass your performance from last year?'

"You love challenges as a goalie," said Rask. "You want to challenge yourself every day and every game, and push yourself - and that’s about it."

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