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Tuukka Rask silences critics with strong game

Victory against Predators keeps Bruins on pace for wild card berth into Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The questions started up again at 5 p.m. on Tuesday after the Boston Bruins announced they had recalled goaltender Zane McIntyre from Providence of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis. 

What was wrong with Tuukka Rask? Why couldn't he play?

The questions were about two crucial games in the past two seasons in which the Bruins starting goaltender could not play. He missed the final game of 2015-16 against the Ottawa Senators, a loss that cost the Bruins a chance at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

On Saturday, Rask did not make the trip to Brooklyn because of a lower-body injury. Boston defeated the Islanders 2-1, but the Bruins faithful took notice. 

Rask's commitment and integrity were under fire. 

And now, it seemed, after Rask and coach Bruce Cassidy had made assurances that Rask would be starting against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden on Tuesday, his availability was in doubt. Except it wasn't. It was backup goaltender Anton Khudobin who was under the weather, though he was eventually deemed well enough to back up Rask. 

But it was as unfair as the rest. 

"What can you do?" Rask said. "I can't do anything about it, what people say. I'm not staying home because I want to stay home. I'm not [not] playing because I don't want to play. I don't think any athlete ever does that. But obviously what's happened in the past years, I missed a game, people are going to bring that up and talk about it. That's just the nature of media and people, what they say. It's fine."

Rask was in net on Tuesday, in another big game, this time playing well, making the saves he needed in a 4-1 win against the Predators. The Bruins are three points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and four points ahead of the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. 

Rask made 24 saves on 25 shots, including a big one on Viktor Arvidsson in the second period. 

There were two blips in the game for Rask, when Brandon Carlo and Kevin Fiala crashed into him late in the third period, and again when he got up slowly a minute later, something he said was due to "cramping up a little bit." But Rask said that he had come out of the game with his health intact.

Earlier in the day, Rask had deemed himself healthy, had said that he was "absolutely" ready and prepared for the rest of the regular season and into the postseason, a place the Bruins are still hoping to reach. 

"Things happen in the games and what not, so you can't really control them," Rask said. "But I feel good now and expect to be playing a lot of games coming up."

Video: NSH@BOS: Rask shuts down Arvidsson with the glove

He should be, though Cassidy would not commit to a number of games. He should be because he is by far the best goaltender the Bruins have and, despite a dip in his play of late, one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. 

Rask generally tries to avoid the banter, the social media narrative, the opinions of the fans. Asked about the chatter on Tuesday morning, he quipped, "I'm sure they've been very nice to me."

"I don't listen. I don't read," Rask said. "You know where you stand. You know how good you played and when you don't play good, that's all you need. You don't need to listen to the outside voices because that's just going to distract you."

He was not distracted on Tuesday. With help from his teammates, who blocked 24 shots, he came away nearly unscathed after a tough outing in his last start, when he gave up five goals in a loss to the Lightning on Thursday. It was a game that had resulted in criticism from Cassidy, which snowballed when Rask did not start on Saturday. 

By Tuesday, that had been shaken off. By Rask. By Cassidy. By the team. 

It is true that Rask has had to manage a heavy workload, perhaps heavier than he should be given, with the Bruins' struggles to find an adequate backup goaltender over the past three seasons. It is true that Rask is better when he does not push the mid-60s to 70s in games played. Tuesday night was his 60th appearance this season (59 starts).

"The workload for Tuukka has to be monitored," Cassidy said. "Whether the whole world agrees with that or not, that's the situation. Certain goaltenders can handle X amount of games. The data backs up that he's better with X amount of rest. That's just the way it is.

"I think at the start of the year, was he overplayed? I guess we can all speculate. The second half, we've really tried to monitor. Last week was a bit of an exception, because at crunch time things change a little bit. That's what we're trying to balance."

That does not mean that Rask deserves the questions about his commitment after missing the game on Saturday, or even the final game of last season. 

Still, "when your jersey is hanging up there, you're expected to go out and play and perform and perform well, especially this time of year," Cassidy said. "And that's our expectation of every player. If we get back to our level of play from everybody, then I think the goaltending situation doesn't get as magnified."

That's true. But even with all the negativity and all the criticism and all the questions, Rask, at least, isn't paying attention to the chatter. He can't.

"People have their own opinions," Rask said. "When you're not playing that well, they want to jump on you. That's just the name of the game. It doesn't bother me. I honestly try to work hard and give us a chance to win every night. That's all I care about. People can say whatever."

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