BOSTON - Tuukka Rask took the ice on Wednesday night just as he had 408 times before. To him, it felt like any other regular-season game in late November.
From the outside, however, it seemed like anything but.
Boston's ace netminder entered the night in the midst of a four-game losing skid, fresh off a loss to Edmonton in his return to the crease after Anton Khudobin's scorching four-game winning streak. But Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy turned back to Rask, who he has insisted over the last two weeks remains the team's No. 1 goalie.
And Rask did not disappoint.
The 30-year-old backstop turned away 19 shots and helped pace the Bruins to a 3-2 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston, which has won five of its last six, received goals from Charlie McAvoy, Riley Nash, and Torey Krug and two assists from Brad Marchand in his return to the lineup.
"Oh man, [Tuukka] was awesome," said McAvoy, who had a goal and an assist in a mammoth 28-plus minutes of ice time. "We believe in him so much. You ask any guy on this team, we believe in Tuukka. And it's a little bit of us not playing as good as we should in front of him, allowing him to not get as many wins as he deserves.
"But tonight he really played great hockey…good for him, and good for the group to get two points there."
Video: McAvoy, Marchand lead Bruins to 3-2 win vs. Lightning
Rask's fourth win of the year was highlighted by a stellar post-to-post save in the closing seconds of the second period. With Boston leading, 3-1, Rask lunged to his left to deny Nikita Kucherov's one-timer with just 31 seconds remaining in the frame.
A Lightning goal there could have provided them with plenty of momentum heading to the third. Instead it turned into one of the timely saves Cassidy has been searching for.
"We talk about the goaltender needing to make saves and then the team playing well in front of him and that's where it got away from us," said Cassidy. "So that's where he helped himself big time tonight. That's what we need. It's an imperfect game. We're not going to be mistake free every night."
Video: TBL@BOS: Rask extends pad to stone Kucherov
Over the course of the past two weeks, Cassidy has repeatedly said he believes that for his team to succeed this season, it will need both Rask and Khudobin playing at a high level. Thus, Cassidy felt it important to get Rask his second consecutive start, despite his recent struggles.
"Tuukka needs his reps as well," said Cassidy. "He's a good goalie - we've said that all along. And tonight we got three for him, he made the big save - everything we talked about. He made those big saves and we got him the extra goal and he got the extra saves. We get both goalies at the top of their game, we're going to be a really good hockey club."
It certainly helped that the Bruins dominated for much of the first two periods. Boston outshot Tampa Bay - which was on the second end of a back-to-back - 32-12 through two and opened up a 3-0 lead by the 5:59 mark of the second. The Lightning's lone goal was an Andrej Sustr shot through a wall of traffic near the midpoint of the second that would have required X-ray vision to stop.
"I didn't think we gave them a ton," said Nash, who ripped one over the glove of Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 2-0 lead late in the first. "I thought they had a couple which we can obviously shore up. But you see the good teams, they really clamp down, and Tuukks - when he was called upon, he stood tall."
Video: TBL@BOS: Rask denies Callahan with a nice pad save
Steven Stamkos brought Tampa within a goal just 2:10 into the third with a one-time blast on the power play. But Rask was up to the task over the final 17-plus minutes, coming up big with late stops on Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan as the Lightning searched for the equalizer.
It was a vintage Tuukka Rask performance. And one that even he admits was much needed.
"Wins never come easy in this league. And even today, you look at, we just dominated them, and Vasilevskiy made some really, really nice saves and kept them in the game," said Rask. "I was proud of the way we battled and blocked shots, and besides that penalty kill, we did a heck of a job. It's awesome…needed that one."
Video: The Bruins speak after their 3-2 win over TBL