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Rask's rebound comes at right time for Bruins

by Matt Kalman

MONTREAL -- What's the best way for a Vezina Trophy finalist to prove that his .884 save percentage through three games of a playoff series is an anomaly?

Pitch a shutout, of course.

That's what Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask did Thursday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens.

Rask stopped all 33 shots he faced to hold down the fort before the Bruins could win 1-0 in overtime at Bell Centre and even the best-of-7 series at 2-2 heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Saturday (7 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Tuukka Rask
Goalie - BOS
GAA: 1.67 | SVP: 0.941
"He was good, he was poised," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We didn't give up three breakaways, so that helped."

The Bruins were uncharacteristically loose on defense in Game 3 on Tuesday, and that allowed the Canadiens to score three times against Rask in a 4-2 victory (the fourth goal went into an empty net). Rask's goals-against average sat at a lofty 2.97 entering Game 4, and it was starting to look like his Montreal counterpart Carey Price was going to dominate their goaltending matchup.

Price, who started Thursday with a .920 save percentage in the series, made 34 saves but allowed the game's only goal on a Matt Fraser tap-in at 1:19 of overtime.

Lesser goaltenders might have started to worry about their play almost halfway through a playoff series. But Rask knows the levels he can reach. He led the NHL in shutouts in 2013-14 with seven, ranked second in save percentage at .930 and fourth in GAA at 2.04. He carried the Bruins all the way to Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final with a 1.88 GAA and allowed six goals in five games in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings.

Rask is a goaltender who hardly ever needs a pep talk or a pick-me-up. But he conceded that he couldn't have found a better time to record a shutout.

"I don't know. I always just try to play my game and hope it's good enough to get the win," Rask said. "And today it happened to be a shutout. And I guess it's good to get it here too."

Although the Bruins were better defensively, there were still some lapses. Late in the second period, Rask had to close the five-hole to prevent Montreal forward Brian Gionta's breakaway from becoming the first goal of the game. Canadiens forward Dale Weise had beaten Rask with a similar move in Game 3.

Rask was quick to credit his teammates, defensemen Torey Krug and Kevan Miller, for help on that play.

"He had to go to the backhand and the guy was right on him, so he had to cut back, so the guys did a great job there," Rask said.

Gionta was right in the middle of another threat during a Boston power play in the second half of the third period. Rask stopped Gionta from point-blank range and then kept the rebound out of the net until the whistle blew.

"He just kind of whacked at that," Rask. "Right from the slot, a guy takes a slap shot, that's never easy. There were no backdoors today, so that's something positive."

The back-door reference alluded to the first Montreal goal on Tuesday, when forward Tomas Plekanec scored off a pass from linemate Thomas Vanek. Rask was right; there were fewer of those types of opportunities. For the most part, Rask was able to see the puck and the Bruins tightly checked Montreal attacking players around the slot. And the Bruins helped out with 12 blocked shots in front of him.

Rask's play impressed his coach and his teammates.

"I don't think Tuukka has a confidence problem," Julien said. "He's not a guy that gets discouraged easily. It's the opposite. He has a lot of character. Instead of getting discouraged he concentrates and he rebounds like he did tonight."

Forward Jarome Iginla had a rough night and didn't land a shot on net, so Rask's performance helped take some of the focus off Iginla's struggles.

"I think he's been great all playoffs. Tonight was another level," Iginla said. "He's stopping breakaways in a 0-0 game, coming across, he looked so sharp. It's nice for us to get that one goal for him, because he's played great. He's been awesome for us all year, he's been great in the playoffs and tonight he was as good as he you can be. He gave us that chance to get that one goal."

This series is supposed to be a showdown between arguably the two best goaltenders in the world. Price has held up his end of the bargain in victory and defeat. Rask seems primed to do the same, with a little help from his teammates.

"We really needed this win. We knew that," Rask said. "Montreal played a good game today and then we never really took it to them like we like to. It seemed like we were a little nervous at times, squeezing our sticks and really not playing our game. So hopefully this win helps us going forward."

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