Above photo: Steve Babineau/NHLI
BOSTON - Bruce Cassidy was not prepared to put any kind of limit on Tuukka Rask's importance on Thursday night.
When asked following the Bruins' 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden how crucial his ace netminder was during Boston's first-period struggles, Cassidy was quick to point out that Rask was quite vital in the second and third periods, too.
"Superb. He was our best player," said Cassidy. "We needed every save, obviously."
Rask made 36 of them against the Sabres to improve to 10-2-2 on the year, but there is one stop that stood out among the rest - and will for some time.
Ahead, 3-1, and on the penalty kill, just over five minutes into the third period, the Bruins were scrambling as Buffalo buzzed around the Boston end. As the Sabres zipped the puck from stick to stick, Rask moved with it, tracking its every move, while peering around the traffic in front of him.
After stopping an initial point-blank attempt from Sabres forward Conor Sheary with the butt end of his stick, Rask lost his lumber during the net-front scramble. The puck then trickled out toward the left circle, where Evan Rodrigues pounced on it and directed a quick wrister at what - for a second - was an open cage.
But the opening was fleeting thanks to Rask's lightning-fast reflexes. Still without his stick, Rask lunged to his right, fully extended, and snagged the puck with his blocker-side palm. The stunning stop kept Boston up by two and left TD Garden in a frenzy.
"I was tracking it. I'm not making a reactionary save at that point," said Rask. "It's just you're in a scramble mode and, luckily, I was in a position where I could throw myself in there. That's one of those that sometimes it hits you and sometimes it doesn't. I don't think I've made a save like that with my blocker, so that was great."
Video: BUF@BOS: Rask makes stop with wrong glove
After the ensuing whistle, several different replay angles of the save were shown on Garden HDX, with each garnering a roar louder than the last.
"You kind of don't know what happened there, to be honest with you. That was a Dominik Hasek save. For you guys, young people out there, he was an old goalie in the league, very acrobatic," Cassidy quipped as he reminded the audience of the legendary backstop. "And that's what it was. I think everyone does get up and realize that we should have been scored on, really. I mean, we should have.
"It does give you a boost. Big plays give you a boost, right? Saves are a part of that, and it sure did for us."
Unlike Hasek and Bruins legend Tim Thomas, Rask is far less flashy between the pipes. His exquisite technique rarely leaves him out of position and in need of making diving, flailing saves.
"I don't make highlights too often like that because I try to be in position to make saves," said Rask, who is second in the NHL in goals against average (2.05) and fourth in save percentage (.931). "It's fun to make a save like that. It's just one of those instinct saves. You're tracking it and then you see that you've got to do something and it hits you."
Video: Rask Speaks After a Phenomenal Blocker Palm Save
Rask's stellar stop comes just two days after Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made his own herculean save with a lunging glove snag of a backhand attempt from Maple Leafs forward Nic Petan's. Fleury's denial was deemed the NHL's save of the year, but Rask's teammates - who stood and banged their sticks upon seeing the replay on the big board - believe it is now a competition.
"[Petan's] was a backhand and I think it was going wide, so I've got to give it to Tuukks. Forehand, [Rodrigues] ripped it. Hey, Tuukks is my boy," quipped Brad Marchand, who notched two goals in the victory. "That's the highlight save of the year."
"It was unbelievable. I was really excited on the bench. I stood up and it was awesome," added David Pastrnak, whose power-play tally just 1:56 into the third proved to be the winner and gave him 20 goals in 22 games, marking the fastest a Bruin has reached that mark since Cam Neely did it in 19 games during the 1993-94 season.
"When you see him in the gym, how flexible he is, it doesn't surprise me. It was a big save…it's going to be [a tight race] with Marc-Andre Fleury."
And it wasn't just Rask's save on Rodrigues that kept Boston afloat. The 32-year-old backstop stood tall throughout the night, particularly during a shaky first period for the Black & Gold, as Buffalo grabbed an early 1-0 lead on Rasmus Ristolainen's power-play goal and opened up a 14-0 shot advantage.
But Rask shut the door following the game's opening tally, allowing the Bruins to settle in and escape the period - during which they were outshot, 17-4 - with the game tied, 1-1, after Marchand's first of the game with 6:08 to go in the opening frame.
"That's why he's making the big bucks and we got him back there to save our butts, so we're lucky to have him," Marchand said with a smirk and chuckle. "Sometimes he has to do that a few times a game. He had to do that the whole first period and a couple times throughout the game…but, again, that's what he's paid for, so he better keep doing it."
Video: BUF@BOS: Rask denies Sheary by closing his pads