Rask at his best in blanking Devils

BOSTON -- After watching goaltending partner Anton Khudobin make 26 saves in a 2-0 shutout at Buffalo on Sunday and then stymie the Senators with a 45-save performance in a 3-2 win over Ottawa on Tuesday, Tuukka Rask was back between the pipes Thursday against the New Jersey Devils trying to make up for what he admitted were not his best performances in his previous two starts. Rask gave up seven goals in two games and said he knew he had to do better.

Well, with the Boston Bruins allowing 40 shots on net to the Devils on Thursday, Rask needed to be more than good. If not for a brilliant 40-save performance by Rask, Jaromir Jagr’s first goal with the Bruins in his debut with the team would have gone to waste. But Rask held the fort and backstopped Boston to its third straight win with a 1-0 shutout -- Rask’s third of the season -- that kept Boston one point behind the Northeast Division-leading Canadiens, whom they will face in Montreal on Saturday.

“He was good tonight; he was one of the reasons we won obviously,” said coach Claude Julien, who hasn’t been shy in calling out Rask recently. “He made the big saves when he had to and kept us in the lead at times when they could have gotten themselves back into the game. He was good for us tonight, and sometimes a little bit of rest and a little bit of work with the goalie coach is what goaltenders need.”

After losing his previous two starts and having a five-day layoff, there was the chance of rust in Rask's first game back. But Rask said he was fine and fed off some posts hit by the Devils.

“I felt comfortable. I think a couple of extra days of work with the goalie coach [Bob Essensa] helped,” said Rask, who is now 16-5-4 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. “I felt like my angles were pretty good and just one of those nights you get a couple of good bounces too. I’ll take it.”

There was no shortage of rubber flying Rask's way, which often can help a goalie trying to find his groove. New Jersey outshot the Bruins 17-6 in the first period and then 12-7 in the third for a total of 40-26. The Devils peppered Rask and had their way with the Bruins' defense, which failed to close lanes and get the puck out of their zone properly.

“I was saying to [Khudobin] in the first intermission that I would rather take 17 shots than three or four shots to just kind of get going,” Rask said. “Even though they had 17 shots, there were a lot of shots from the outsides so it was good to get that feeling, feel for the puck and stuff like that.”

Rask said that while he wanted to be playing, as he always does following a bad start, he also didn’t mind seeing his friend Khudobin find success in his past two starts.

“I’d just rather go out there and just get my mind right during the game,” Rask said. “Dobby played great in Buffalo, played great against Ottawa so I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself sitting out there. I was feeling good for him. He’s kind of in that groove and he’s playing really good, so it was good to watch him for a couple of outings there and I felt good out there today.”

Now it’s on to another tilt with the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday at what promises to be a raucous Bell Centre. For the fourth consecutive time, first place in the Northeast Division will be at stake when these longtime rivals meet in what is the final matchup of the regular season.

Rask has started all three meetings with the Habs. After making 20 saves in a 2-1 win at the Bell Centre on Feb. 6, Rask has struggled against the Canadiens, losing his past two starts and allowing nine goals on 54 shots. After Thursday's shutout, Rask said that maybe he has let himself get too amped up for these rivalry games.

“I’m not going to get excited at all because I’ve tried that and it didn’t work too well last time,” Rask said. “They’re always exciting games and they’re always high emotion games so for a goalie it’s a tough job to just keep yourself calm and try to just focus on stopping the puck and not getting all hyped up. So I’m just trying my best not to get carried away. I won the game there the last time we played so I’m just going to look at that and try to trick my brain that I was awesome last game and keep it going that way.”

Following the past meeting, a 6-5 shootout loss to the Habs, Rask lost his cool, slammed and broke his stick over the net and then fell to the ice in a rage. Rask knows the Bell Centre crowd will be all over him and his teammates from the second they hop on the ice Saturday, but he says he will embrace the atmosphere.

“They’re always all over everybody, so whatever,” Rask answered when asked if he expected some ribbing from Habs fans over his outburst on March 27. “It’s a great atmosphere there, you know that, so it’ll be a fun Saturday night. A lot of drunk people out there I bet.”