Kalman: Rask’s clearer mind, stingier play no joking matter for Bruins

Matt Kalman
November 30, 2018 - 9:01 am

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

When posed with a question about this being the time of year he typically finds his groove in goal, Tuukka Rask made a joke Thursday.

“I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t want to play in October,” said Rask, after a 2-1 shootout win against the New York Islanders at TD Garden.

Rask got a hearty laugh from those in earshot before he continued, “I don’t know. You just kind of work hard in practice, try to get some shots and work with the goalie coach. And then when the game time comes, you try to be there. Some days you are; some days you aren’t. And the past few games I have. It’s a mystery, I don’t know. I want to do it every night, but you know ...”

Jokes aside, we know that Rask didn’t always desire to be in the Bruins’ crease this October. Things in his personal life got to a point he needed to take a leave of absence from the Bruins Nov. 9. He returned Nov. 13 and has been a new man.

After making 28 saves Thursday, Rask is 2-0-2 with a .944 save percentage since he came back. It’s obvious taking care of what he had to take care of during his leave has alleviated stress and allowed him to better focus. Rask is never one for introspection (at least during the season), so he didn’t want to make any excuses for how the first month of this season went.

“No, I felt focused all along,” Rask told WEEI.com. “I mean there’s some days that I haven’t been. But for the most part.”

Focus and quick reactions saved Rask against the Islanders, especially in overtime. He closed the pads in time to stop a Jordan Eberle blast from the slot. Rask stopped a Mathew Barzal breakaway and then held on to a Barzal laser from the point. One puck got into the Boston net, but that was because Anthony Beauvillier was interfering with Rask.

Rask has never been a fan of the shootout, using any number of dirty words to describe it in past years. But more performances like his showing against the Islanders might change his mind. Four New York shooters tried to beat Rask with wrist shots to different destinations, and he stopped them all.

“I mean, good patience today, I guess,” Rask said. “I was seeing the puck well in the shootout, so that was good. It’s one of those things that some days you’re kind of more patient than the others, and then sometimes you get deked and then get mad, and sometimes you don’t. Today I did.”

Rask has now cracked the top 20 in the NHL save percentage shooting rankings with a .917 in 12 games this season, good for 18th. He has followed a .902 October with a .933 November – and his November career totals now read .926 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average despite playing behind a defense corps that’s been without Zdeno Chara and as many as five of his fellow defensemen.

A clearer mind and an every-other-game rotation with Bruins 1A goalie Jaroslav Halak, who leads the NHL with a .936 save percentage, seem to be agreeing with Rask.

“I think we just want to have both us going and both us feeling good. Maybe that’s been the case, so keep that going throughout the year and have good goalies in the playoffs,” he said.

And that’s no joke.

Related: Why Bruins aren’t using a Marchand-Krejci-Pastrnak line ... for now