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Conference Final

Rask rested, relaxed, razor-sharp for Bruins in playoffs

Time off during regular season keeping goalie fresh heading into Game 2 against Hurricanes

by Matt Kalman / Correspondent

BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask's extra rest during the regular season is paying off for the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The goalie has started every one of the Bruins' 14 games this postseason and leads the playoffs in wins (nine), goals-against average (2.02, minimum 10 games), save percentage (.938, minimum 10 games) and minutes played (861).

He will make his 15th straight start in the 2019 playoffs when the Bruins host the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of Eastern Conference Final at TD Garden on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) with Boston looking to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.


[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]


"Great, great, great," Rask said when asked how he felt after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Saturday.

The Bruins would concur on their assessment of their No. 1 goalie, who entered the playoffs more fresh than recent seasons. He made 45 starts this season, his fewest in a full season since he started 22 games in 2011-12, and was 27-13-5 with a 2.48 GAA, .912 save percentage and four shutouts.

That, after starting at least 53 games in each of the previous five seasons, including an NHL career-high 67 in 2014-15. 

Video: Rask's performance instrumental in Bruins' Game 1 win

Rask's workload was eased by the presence of backup Jaroslav Halak, who made 37 starts and was 22-11-4 with a 2.34 GAA, .922 save percentage and five shutouts. The two helped Boston tie for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.59).

Rask has made it a habit to say he felt fine physically after recent postseasons, but he said he feels better mentally in these playoffs.

"I don't know, maybe it's just, during the season if you play a lot of consecutive games, you go through big stretches, you play 15, 16 straight games, it's obviously mentally draining," said Rask, who made 29 saves in the Bruins' 5-2 win in Game 1 on Thursday. "You have to really pay attention to get some rest and kind of let your brain rest. 

"But then this year that wasn't the case, so I think mentally it's easier when you don't play a lot of consecutive games and you have another guy with you who you're splitting the net with. So I think mentally it helps."

His teammates have definitely noticed.

"Yeah, he's feeling it right now," forward Brad Marchand said. "To be a good team in the playoffs, you need that. You look at all the teams we've played, Columbus [Blue Jackets], Carolina, their goalies are feeling it as well.

"So we're here because he's been as good as he's been and he gives us an opportunity to win every night. Made the big saves last game when we needed them. He's the backbone of our group, he has been for a long time now and we're going to need that going forward."

The Bruins know the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner and their all-time wins leader is capable of carrying them during a hot streak; Rask went 20 straight starts without a loss (16-0-3, left one game because of injury) from Dec. 29-March 9, and went 21 straight starts without a defeat (19-0-2) from Nov. 29-Feb. 6 in 2017-18. 

"He can certainly get in his zones," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "So we need him to rip off another three weeks or whatever it is, because that's generally what it takes. And I'm really impressed by his focus every night. Even his puck play hasn't slipped. Every part of his game seems to be focused and dialed in. It doesn't mean he's perfect, but it just seems like he's ready for whatever's coming at him."

Before this season, Rask hadn't gotten past the second round since he played in the Stanley Cup Final with Boston and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013. Before that, Rask's only trip this deep came in 2011, when he never got into a game and Tim Thomas led the way to a Stanley Cup.

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm1: Rask slides across to rob Teravainen

Rask was in his mid-20s for those two runs. Now he's 32 and relishing the opportunity a little more because he has learned over the years how difficult it is to get here.

"It's just once you get closer to retirement I guess, you kind of realize that these opportunities don't come [that often], you can't take them for granted," he said. "When you're a young guy, if you happen to be in the finals or win or whatever, you're kind of like, 'This is easy, you'll be here every year.' But most likely that's not the case.

"When you're a veteran, you've had the luxury of seeing it, and then a few years you don't make it and … it's really, really tough, so you try to embrace it and really enjoy it."


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