BOSTON -- It had been more than three weeks since Tuukka Rask's last win, a stretch that contained four losses and five DNPs, a stretch unlike almost any in the Boston Bruins goaltender's career as a starter. And there he was Wednesday, facing the best team in the NHL, with the chance for the Tampa Bay Lightning to push his losing streak to five games, with his statistics bordering on untenable, with his backup threatening to take his job.
So, did Rask need the win against the Lightning? Did he need the 3-2 victory in which he made 19 saves against a team scoring 3.56 goals per game, second in the NHL?
"He's a goalie. He's a pro. He's a competitor. Need is a strong word," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I think he would best be able to answer that. I think at some point as a goalie you need wins. So was this the time? Probably.
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"There was a lot of chatter lately. So for him to step up and get it done and for us to play well in front of him, not have to stand on his head … I don't know if I'm answering your question, but I think deep down he's going to feel good about it and sleep well tonight."
The choice was not made until Wednesday, or at least not revealed until then. Rask would start against the Lightning rather than Anton Khudobin, the backup who has been powering the Bruins of late. Khudobin had won his past four starts, against some of the best in the League - the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New Jersey Devils, the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings. Rask had not won since Nov. 6.
It would have been easy to go to Khudobin again. It would have made sense.
But Cassidy didn't.
Video: TBL@BOS: Rask extends pad to stone Kucherov
He knew he needed Rask. The goalie, after all, is the starter on the Bruins, the proven player with the Vezina Trophy in his possession. Cassidy had to start him. And Rask, for his sake, for the team's sake, had to get the win.
As Cassidy acknowledged, "We need both goaltenders for us to excel as a team."
They particularly need Rask though.
He went into the game Wednesday with a 3-8-2 record, a 2.91 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage, all of which were significantly off his NHL career marks, which include a 2.26 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He had allowed some goals he shouldn't, had not found the brilliance he can be capable of demonstrating. This was not the way he was used to playing, and was not the way his teammates, his fans or Bruins management were used to seeing him.
"You face adversity all the time," Rask said. "Obviously, when you sit out four games, you call it adversity, but it's only a matter of how you deal with it. You keep working hard and believe that the results will follow like I've been telling you guys and hopefully this is one of many wins in a row."
Because although the game against the Lightning wasn't perfect, it was far closer to the Rask that the Bruins would like to see.
That was clear at the end of the second period, when Rask made two scintillating saves in quick succession, starting with a stop on Tyler Johnson and continuing as he turned away Nikita Kucherov, whose 17 goals are second in the NHL, on a post-to-post move with 31.2 seconds remaining.
Video: TBL@BOS: Rask denies Callahan with a nice pad save
"It's one of those saves that you slide in there and try to get everything in front of the puck possible," Rask said. "This time I had my glove and it bounced in front of me. Just one of those that you do everything you can to have pads in there, and this time it hit me."
The save kept the game 3-1 heading into the intermission. It prevented what would have been a significant momentum swing, for the Lightning and for himself.
"I'm sure it affected his confidence, too, between periods," Cassidy said. "It has to when you make big saves. That's what you're paid to do, right?"
Rask, though, hadn't made enough of those saves of late, and with a backup on fire, it was creating the inevitable questions: Should Khudobin be slotted ahead of Rask? What was wrong with the starter? How could he turn this around? Could the Bruins survive without him?
It seemed unlikely, even as well as Khudobin had been playing. There is little in his history to suggest that he could be the long-term starter for the Bruins, even if his statistics are impressive, at 7-0-2 with a 2.22 GAA and .932 save percentage.
Whereas for Rask, the talent is there, the pedigree is there, the results have been there.
So did Rask need the win? How important was it, truly?
"Oh, it's great. It's awesome," Rask said. "Yeah, I know, needed that one."