That was on display Thursday night at TD Garden, as Rask led the Black and Gold to a 3-0 shutout of the New York Rangers for their fifth straight win.
"He was really good for us," said Head Coach Claude Julien, of his netminder who stopped all 30 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season and the 25th of his career.
"[The Rangers have] a lot of speed, and we acknowledged that before the game," said Julien. "They certainly displayed it at times and when there was the odd breakdown and they had opportunities to score, Tuukka was up to the task there and made some big saves for us."
"No doubt, in my mind, he was our best player tonight."
Just four minutes into the first period, Patrice Bergeron fired in a rebound off Dougie Hamilton's drive to give the Bruins an early 1-0 lead.
A minute and a half later, Rask made a stop on Rick Nash flying down the left wing. He made it look like any other routine save. Nash went into the night tied for first atop the League with 26 goals. He fired four shots on Rask throughout the game.
"You get a couple tough chances early on and it kind of gets you in the game," said Rask. "The past few games actually, we have been doing a good job of closing in quickly on their point shots and not giving those opportunities so that helps me when I see the puck and get those clear looks."
The Bruins have been stressing the importance of their five-man unit and supporting each other with layers all over the ice. When the forwards close in quickly and push the opposition to the outside, it helps the defensemen clamp down and protect the house.
"When the team plays good in front of you, it makes it that much easier," Rask said of the team's defensive play as of late, letting in just six goals amidst their five-game win streak. "Having the scoring chances down a bit, you know. Earlier in the year, it used to be 15-20 scoring chances - the odds are you are going to give up two or three goals."
"Now when it’s close to 10, or if it’s 9 or 11, it helps a lot. I have felt pretty much the same all year, but now I’m not getting stupid bounces and we are playing a really good team defense so that results in goals against going down."
The Bruins have been working for the bounces to go their way. With confidence, energy and an edge to their game, they're executing with a rhythm that makes lulls less frequent.
A strong start helped set the pace on Thursday night.
"It was important to have a strong effort for the whole game, but definitely our start was important - we talked about," said Bergeron. "When we were playing a tough team and a team that has a lot of speed - and we saw that - and scoring first was important."
Rask pulled out a sequence of stops in the first period, including a save on Chris Kreider in tight during a penalty kill, that consistently brought out the "Tuuuuuuuk" chant from the fired up TD Garden crowd.
Thanks to Rask's efforts, and a steady presence in front of him, the Bruins were able to take a 2-0 lead early in the second period. David Krejci tapped in a perfect slap pass from Torey Krug backdoor, who had taken advantage of the Rangers' poor defensive coverage.
"It’s nice. I don’t even know how the hell I had so much time up there but that’s how you score goals," smiled Krug, who had a two-assist night which gave him a career-high five-game assist streak (seven assists). "You go to the dirty areas and obviously he was untouched backdoor but that’s what makes him a good goal scorer is he finds the right lanes and I was just able to put the pass on his tape."
Krug also assisted on Loui Eriksson's rebound top shelf insurance tally midway through the third period. It would seal the Bruins' 3-0 win, with Rask earning his well deserved shutout.
About seven minutes into the second period, Rask stood strong after Nash picked off a pass and raced in on a breakaway. It would have no doubt changed the momentum of the game, had the Ranger converted.
"I thought Tuukka played unbelievable tonight," said Chris Kelly. "Not only in the first period, but that breakaway by Nash in the second. It’s a different game if he doesn’t make a big save there. He was our best player tonight, and he’s been our best player for a while, so it’s good to see."
The Bruins did a strong job at limiting the Rangers' speed and active defensemen. When odd-man rushes formed, backchecking prevented scoring chances from forming for the most part.
"When you look at our team, we talked about having some composure and making sure you make the right plays and then try not to panic in your own end," said Julien. "We’ve been better because we’re moving our feet now a little bit more and that helps when it comes time to making some decisions. A lot of times we’d be standing there looking at our options, and you’ve got to move your feet in this league and I think our D’s have gotten better at that."
Amidst their win streak, the Bruins have picked up wins over Eastern Conference opponents Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and New York. Their entire attitude has changed from a week and a half ago.
"We kind of calmed down and we are playing within our strengths and building the defense and having layers and really not duplicating jobs that much," said Rask. "It’s that simple, and we feel that we are on the right track and we aren’t going to get comfortable because we know what the other end of the stick could be."
During this stretch, the Bruins have been tougher to play against. They have been physical and not afraid to react, and stick up for themselves and their teammates.
In the second period, Adam McQuaid dropped the gloves with Tanner Glass after the Ranger slashed David Pastrnak. McQuaid would later have his teammates stick up for him when he got high-sticked by Kevin Hayes and needed stitches under his eye (he, of course, returned for the start of the third period with the repairs).
Six minutes into the third, Carl Soderberg was hit on the numbers by Kreider and went awkwardly into the boards. Kelly immediately jumped in and dropped the gloves with Kreider. Slapped with an instigator, fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, Kelly missed the remainder of the game.
His bench boss was OK with that, though.
"Yeah, no doubt," said Julien. "I don’t think that we’ve ever had an issue with that. It was a dangerous hit and he just stood up for his teammate and went in there; you’ve seen that as of late on a lot of occasions."
"That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to stick up for ourselves and do what needs to be done."
"You want to stick up for your teammates," Kelly said, before smiling and adding, "And I like Carl, so."
When the Bruins play with that edge and are on top of teams, skating hard, it creates those battles and in some cases, fights.
"Earlier in the year you’re just kind of going through the motions and nothing is really happening so you aren’t going to create something out of nothing obviously," said Rask. "It’s a good sign when everything is kind of falling into place and it looks like we are feeling comfortable out there and standing up for each other is a part of it."
The Black and Gold see plenty of positives in their recent play, but still don't feel their game has turned around yet amidst the win streak.
"The biggest challenge was to find our game; it took us a while and now we’re starting to find it, so now it’s important for us to keep it," said Julien. "It hasn’t been an easy first half, so it’s not going to be an easy second half either. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up for and I think playing like we did tonight certainly helps."