The No. 1 netminder started the Bruins’ final preseason matchup on Friday night against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center, stopping all 15 shots he faced through 40 minutes of action.
Boston ended up falling 2-1 to the Capitals in the shootout, though Rask didn’t go the full distance.
With Rask looking sharp, calm and plenty tuned up for the home opener on Oct. 8, Jeremy Smith filled in for the final 20 minutes of regulation, the five minute 3-on-3 overtime period and the shootout.
“It felt like I usually kind of feel — you see the puck and you feel comfortable and big out there and you don’t have to rush your movements that much because you’re reading the play,” Rask said postgame from the Verizon Center. “And I felt like I had my legs under me and I was moving well, so that’s a good thing.”
While the game started fairly slow for both sides shots-wise, Rask had to be sharp on the few chances he saw, when Caps found ways to get in behind the Bruins’ defense.
Rask repetitively drew out “Tuuuuuuukk” chants from the Boston faithful in attendance. The first came after he stopped Evgeny Kuznetsov breaking in all alone.
“I felt great,” said Rask. “You know, obviously when you face a lot of breakaways and chances against, and you play good, you’re going to say you feel good. But I felt calm out there and I was seeing the puck very well, and it’s a good thing moving forward.”
He constantly controlled the play, even when there was havoc around him — especially on the penalty kill, where the Bruins were perfect on the night, going five-for-five. Rask turned aside the usually potent one-timer from Alex Ovechkin and was particularly strong on his pads with chances in tight.
During one penalty kill towards the end of the second period, Rask pulled out a half dozen point-blank stops.
“It really felt like there was no easy shots,” he said. “There were lots of scoring chances. But you know, that’s how it is sometimes, when we’re trying to fine-tune our game and you know, we made a lot of uncharacteristic things out there today, giving up those breakaways especially.”
In the middle frame, the Bruins’ puck management became particularly poor and they started turning pucks over and not getting them deep into the zone. They were getting rid of pucks under pressure and making blind passes. That resulted in only five shots on goal in the period.
“I think our youth was maybe exposed a little bit there, but that’s what we’re here for, to evaluate situations,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “So [Tuukka] was good, a lot of breakaways. After two periods, we all knew his game was back, so it was important to give Smitty another look as well.”
“I think Tuukka was on his game and faced enough situations. We said, ‘this is probably a great opportunity here to get Smitty in again.’”
Backup goaltenders are meant to lighten the load on the amount of starts throughout the season, but they also have to be called upon in situations that arise in-game, whether through an injury, or to spark the team’s play. They have to be ready.
“For myself, I always want to prepare and be ready at any time,” said Smith, who stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced, only allowing a point-blank fire from Ovechkin when the Capitals were pushing to tie the game late in the third.
“I mean, it could happen in any game where with Tuukka, something goes wrong — knock on wood. I just always want to be ready and they said I was going in, so I was prepared.”
Smith is still in contention with Jonas Gustavsson for the backup role behind Rask. Gustavsson stayed back in Boston and did not travel to D.C. Julien, GM Don Sweeney and the Bruins’ staff will have a difficult time making a decision between a player with much more seasoned NHL experience in Gustavsson, versus a player trying to make his mark in the NHL like Smith.
“I feel confident,” said Smith. “I mean, I’m worrying about my game and getting better and talking to [Goaltending Coach] Bob [Essensa] about what I can work on.”
“I think the goal is to be successful at this level, not just to make it to this level. I want to be an impact player, so I think it’s a process and in due time, hopefully it will happen.”
Smith had to make a save right away within the first minute of the third period, and carried his solid play through overtime.
“It’s just more information,” Julien said of the decision to put Smith in. “We’ll all talk about that, once we have to make up our mind about our goaltending, but just an opportunity to give him — he made some big saves again. We had some breakdowns, and he made some big saves, and I’m not gaging myself at all on the shootout. Those things to me don’t really matter right now — it’s more about his game.”
“And for a guy, in my mind, that came in cold in the third period and the number of chances we gave him, I thought he handled himself well.”
“I think they had a couple of good chances,” Smith said. “But for me it was good to get in there and make those saves and give myself a lot of confidence.”
Beyond Rask’s play and Smith getting another look, the biggest takeaway from the B’s preseason tilt was something that manifested itself over and over again throughout the night: their pack mentality.
When those in the Spoked-B are playing for each other and sticking up for each other, they find success more often than not.
While they didn’t get there result they were hoping for — especially to cap off the preseason — their willingness to not back down was in full force.
Tyler Randell, still fighting for a spot in Boston, dropped the gloves early. Kevan Miller also engaged in a bout with Tom Wilson — not once, but twice.
In a span of 15 seconds early in the third period, Adam McQuaid and Miller both fought.
McQuaid was on the end of a hit behind the boards from T.J. Oshie that sent him flying. Torey Krug immediately skated over to Oshie and engaged him, then McQuaid stepped in and dropped the gloves.
Soon after, Miller didn’t take lightly to a high hit by Wilson on fellow blueliner Matt Irwin and the pair fought a second time, with Miller landing heavy blows.
The fights left Miller and McQuaid in the box for a combined 27 minutes. Julien did not have any issues with the reasons behind it.
“You saw tonight that guys are sticking up for each other, so that’s also a good sign in my mind,” said Julien. “There’s some cheap shots taken and liberties, and our guys stood up for each other.”
“It’s contagious,” said Miller. “And we like each other in here and we don’t want to see anybody on this team get hurt and we look out for each other.”
The other defenders had to step up, flying on to the ice every other shift. Krug logged a team-high 25:37 in ice time, Irwin was next with 23:10, while Colin Miller played 21:37 and Joe Morrow clocked 20:40.
“When you’ve got Miller and you’ve got McQuaid in the box, you’ve got the young Morrows and Colin Miller, so those guys — Irwin was back there and kind of taking the load with Torey, so again, it was a good test for them,” said Julien. “I thought they handled it well and all of the pressure and going every second shift, so I thought they did a good job of holding their own.”
Loui Eriksson combined with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand for the Bruins’ lone goal early in the first period.
Krug joined the rush for a four-man attack, and after keeping the puck in the zone along the boards, Marchand slid it up to Bergeron, who fed Eriksson all alone on the doorstep. Eriksson deked to the left and slid the puck under Caps netminder Philipp Grubauer.
Their line carried the play throughout the night, generating 13 shot attempts.
“You know, there’s still a lot of new players on our team, so there’s some chemistry that needs to be built there with different people, but that line there has been together at different times in the past, so it was good,” said Julien. “They had some good chances, they made some good plays.”
“Overall, I thought our team — [the Capitals are] a big, physical team and they were being physical and so were we, so it was real good game to evaluate, I think, a lot of players under different circumstances, you know, whether it was the physical part of it, whether it was the pace of the game on the forecheck and all of that, so this was a great way to finish our preseason.”