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Tuukka Rask Getting Into a Groove

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - Tuukka Rask is in a groove.

The netminder has started eight straight games, most recently backing the Bruins to a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings and their eighth win in 10 games on Saturday night.

The victory capped off an 8-1-3 month of January for the Bruins. Rask started 11 of those games, going 7-1-3, including a 3-0 shutout of the New York Rangers on Jan. 15.

For his efforts, he was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month for January.

Rask and the Bruins only had one regulation loss throughout the month, coming on Jan. 17 against Columbus. Through his 11 appearances, he allowed just 18 goals for a 1.64 goals-against average and stopped 336 of 354 shots for a .949 save percentage .

Rask held opponents to two goals or less in nine of those 11 games.

"Tuukka’s been solid for so long," Daniel Paille said. "So even when he was playing [earlier in the season], he was still playing well — just no one was helping him."

"You’ve seen the key saves he’s made at crucial moments for us at times in the game, and definitely gives us a lot of confidence, knowing we have someone like that. He looks like he’s in his form like he was last year when he won [the Vezina]."

"And he’s a confident goalie. He knew that even though he wasn’t playing bad, he could perform better, and he has been."

"He’s been excellent for us," remarked Adam McQuaid. "He’s making timely saves, huge saves. There’s been some breakdowns and he’s been there for us, and that’s what you like to see from your goaltender. That’s what makes him one of the best, is he’s able to do that for us and he’s giving us a chance every night, so you can play with confidence when you have a goaltender like that."

"He’s been there for us all month, really been there all month," said Chris Kelly. "But Tuukka’s been there since I’ve gotten here. Whenever he’s played, he’s given us an opportunity to win."

There's no doubt that the entire team has elevated its play with more sustained stability in the lineup, but Rask's teammates have been feeding off of his play, even if the goaltender doesn't see it that way.

On Jan. 29, after backing the team to a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Long Island, Rask was quick to deflect that notion.

'Is the team feeding off of you?' Rask was asked by a reporter.

"I don’t know. Not really. I don’t see it that way," Rask said nonchalantly. "I don’t see it really that way, no."

While he won't pat himself on the back for his strong play, his teammates and bench boss will.

"No doubt, no doubt. I mean, he’s been great," said Head Coach Claude Julien. "We’ve talked about it for a long time and this last month, he’s been on fire."

"You know, you ride a goaltender that’s hot as much as you can without doing some damage."

Through 41 appearances this season, Rask has compiled a 22-11-7 record with two shutouts for a 2.31 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

The goaltender has said many times before that he would play every game if he could. In terms of durability and recovery, especially with back-to-backs, the Bruins obviously need Niklas Svedberg's services, too.

To keep Svedberg sharp, Boston recently sent him to Providence on a conditioning loan to get in games.

With the schedule right now, and rest from the NHL All-Star Break, there hasn't been a reason to keep Rask from starting between the pipes.

"You know, I look around the League and I look at other goaltenders and they’ve had the same workloads, a lot of them," Julien said prior to the Bruins' win over LA on Saturday. "At the same time I think, except for a couple of stretches where we’ve had some tight games, he’s had some breaks and we had six days off."

"He’s played a game, had another day in between, he plays [Saturday] and we've got another three days before the next game. It’s not like he's being overworked with back-to-backs or five in eight where he’s played all five games. When that comes, we’ll manage that, but right now I think he’s doing fine."

"From my end, I keep checking with him, asking how he’s feeling, making sure if he’s tired then I've got to make a decision there. When a goaltender is hot, you have a tendency to want to ride him."

In his third season as the starter in Boston, Rask's experience has made it easier for him to stay ready and mentally prepared to handle the workload.

"We’ve got to do what’s right for our team, but we've also got to do what’s right for Tuukka," said Julien. "He wants to play, but at the same time, if he’s tired he’ll be honest about it."

"If he’s tired, we also notice just by his play and his demeanor. We manage that stuff, but a goaltender too, with time and years becomes more durable in my mind. He's experienced, he probably doesn’t stress as much as he did early on and mentally he’s not as tired and everything else. I think that’s what happens with goaltenders and that’s why you give goaltenders a little bit more time in the minors to mature."

Rask confirmed that approach, sharing that his mindset now is much different than the stress he faced as a rookie, trying to prove every game that he deserved a roster spot.

“I feel good out there. I’ve felt pretty good all year, but obviously now, the luck has been on our side a little bit more, too, and I feel more confident out there," said Rask.

“I think whenever you’re not feeling as comfortable out there, you kind of want to get those games and get that feeling, and then whenever you’re feeling comfortable, you want to keep going. I don’t mind [the workload]; obviously, you can’t play every game, but I like playing, and that’s what they pay me for. So, no complaints there.”

The rest days will become fewer and far between for Rask and the Bruins in the final two and a half months of the season. Boston faces a 10-day road trip through Western Canada, St. Louis and Chicago in February, before a 15-game month of March with four back-to-backs every weekend.

It will be tougher to sustain the strong play that Rask showcased in January, but the way he and the Bruins are trending, it won't be a surprise to see him rise to the challenge.

"He definitely was our best player in January," said Milan Lucic. "He definitely stepped his game up to the level that he’s capable of playing at, so he’s a huge part of our team, probably the most important part of our team, with his ability and his competitiveness. We’re grateful to have a guy like that between the pipes."

"You’ve got to give him all the credit in the world with how he’s been able to play this January, and he’s starting to get into the groove that we need him to be in."

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