"It was [emotional]," said Rask. "It was very much out of the normal, I guess, the way I was feeling before the game, [on Wednesday] especially. I'm not used to this game-day routine. It's been many months since the last game, so [backing up for the Montreal game] definitely helped. That I kind of got the experience of the gameday; and then, obviously, today, playing. It was great to see the fans' support, the best fans."
Despite the unusual circumstances, Rask hardly looked on edge as he made 25 stops to help lead the Bruins to a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. David Pastrnak took care of the offense, potting his 11th career hat trick, as Boston secured its fourth straight win and seventh in eight games since the Christmas break.
"In terms of just tracking the puck and playing the game and stopping the puck, I'd say it looked like old Tuukka," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Talking to him after, no issues with the surgery - a little bit sore in spots, but I think that's just from not playing for a while, just muscular. Conditioning, he said, was pretty good. He got tested late - obviously, spent a lot of time in our end with the penalties and the empty net.
"Good for him, glad to see him come through. I think the guys played hard for him, especially when we needed to down the stretch five-on-three, clearing the front of the net…doing a pretty good job in front there to allow Tuukka to cover pucks and get them out of harm's way."
Video: Rask talks to the media after 3-2 win over PHI
As Cassidy made sure to point out, Rask was particularly sharp when the Bruins needed him most. Boston spent much of the second half of the third period on its heels as the Flyers pushed for the equalizer during an extended stretch of power-play time, which included a 45-second 5-on-3 advantage with just under seven minutes remaining.
After failing to connect on the power play, Philadelphia pulled goalie Carter Hart for an extra attacker with roughly 3:45 to go, forcing the Bruins to play shorthanded until the final buzzer.
"He didn't have a ton of work in terms of volume," said Cassidy. "He's used to that a little bit around here, that you have to stay sharp - and all of a sudden, a good one comes at you. So that's kind of how we play. We're pretty good at limiting volume and D-zone stuff for the most part, try to keep it outside.
"But there's going to be penalty kills, there's going to be mismanaged pucks - in second periods, particularly, when you're in a line change…that's what goalies do. That's how they win. That's winning hockey. Make sure it's a momentum shifter for our team, and Tuukka certainly did that tonight."
Rask also turned away multiple breakaways, including one on a Joel Farabee backhanded dangle attempt during a 4-on-4 in the second period and another on a Cam Atkinson backhanded chance with the Bruins up by a goal and just 2:53 to go in regulation.
"It's a back-to-back and fatigue sets in for the guys, so there's gonna be some errors," said Rask. "A goalie's job is kind of to back them up in those situations. Today, luckily, I got a couple of breakaways."
Video: Pastrnak's hat trick propels Bruins over Flyers, 3-2
Despite a nearly seventh-month gap between outings, Rask said he didn't notice much rust in his game, outside of some puck play behind the net. The backstop did notice, however, how much better he was shifting in the crease compared to a year ago when his hip injury hampered his ability to make certain movements.
"Oh, 100 percent, 100 percent," Rask said when asked if he felt a difference. "Even though it wasn't killing me in every single game last year, it's always in the back of your head that certain movements are limited. And now when you don't have that - like first period, I think, I had like two or three, at least, kick saves to the right.
"Then in the third, there was that wraparound where I kind of extended. Some stuff like that last year was totally out of the question. So, it was great to feel that I had the ability to move both ways."
Rask noted that the first period "wasn't the easiest" when it came to getting into a rhythm as the Flyers went over nine minutes without a shot to start the game and landed just six attempts on goal in the opening frame.
"There's no shots for the first, I don't know how many minutes," said Rask. "Luckily there was a couple feel-good shots, and then you kind of get yourself in it, you know?...it was a good first game, I guess, for a goaltending perspective, to get those shots, feel-good shots, and then get yourself back in it."
Rask also had plenty of help from Pastrnak at the other end of the ice as the winger continued his torrid stretch by securing Boston's second hat trick in as many days. Brad Marchand picked up a hat trick of his own during Wednesday's win over Montreal, marking the first time the Bruins have had players record hat tricks in back-to-back games since Sergei Samsonov and Steve Heinze in April 1998.
"Oh man, I was so happy to have him back, you have no idea," said Pastrnak. "I was ready to leave it all out there for him. I told him I'm gonna get a hat trick before the game and he didn't believe me. It's really good to have him back. He's one of my closest friends and I missed him, obviously. He was outstanding, the saves he made. Great to have him back and I could be sitting here for 15 minutes talking about him. I have high praise for him."
Video: Pastrnak talks with media after hat-trick on Thursday
There's plenty of high praise to go around for Pastrnak, too, as the 25-year-old now has eight goals over his last six games, doubling his total for the season. Pastrnak got things going just 1:51 into Thursday's contest when he ripped home a wrister off feeds from Taylor Hall and Erik Haula for his 50th career game-opening goal. Since Pastrnak entered the league in 2014-15, only Marchand (52) has more such tallies, per NHL Stats.
"For me, the first goal was big for us as a line," said Pastrnak. "It was great work. We got a turnover and none of us had the puck longer on the stick for one second, but we all touched it. At the end of the day, it ended up in the net. I think that was a big goal for us as a line. As a new line working on the new chemistry…we were all close supporting each other so that was a big goal.
"We get better every game. We didn't have much practice lately because of all the games coming up, so pretty much the game is where we need to connect. I think today we had some good looks. There's still things to work on as a line, but the important thing is we need to communicate together."
Pastrnak followed up with two power-play tallies - the first a wrister off a slick cross-slot pass from Marchand to make it, 2-0, at 5:27 of the first; and the second, the eventual game-winner, a one-time blast from the slot off a dish from Charlie McAvoy with 3:15 left in the second period.
"He's looked good recently, for sure," said Cassidy. "He certainly looks like he's turned the corner. Sometimes that's what happens with goal scorers; one goes in and they just - a little bit of weight off their shoulders. They're going to press…he may have been going through that, but certainly tonight, it looked like he could have had five or six goals, to be honest with you. So, enjoy those nights when you have them. He did.
"He was out there at the end trying to help preserve a lead, so we trust him away from the puck as well, but tonight was his night. The puck was finding him, so good to see. We needed all three of them, and hopefully he is back feeling great about his game because it sure looks like his game is in order, but we want to make sure it's a longer sample size. But this last three or four, five games, he's on it."
Video: PHI@BOS: Pastrnak's three goals lead Bruins to win