Julien's praise for Rask seems measured

BOSTON -- Is Bruins coach Claude Julien trying to create or quell a goalie controversy between starter Tuukka Rask and backup Anton Khudobin?

Julien's recent comments regarding Rask and his choice to start Khudobin two straight games last week started some rumblings that Khudobin may be given a chance to challenge Rask for more starts and were curious to say the least.

After a 23-save performance in the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout win over the Maple Leafs on Monday night, Rask is 15-4-3 and second in the NHL in goals-against average (1.90) and save percentage (.928). He also has two shutouts and could be considered for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. Khudobin has been good as well going 6-3-0 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. While Rask had lost his previous two starts, he has by no means been the problem with the Bruins' recent lackluster play prior to Monday night’s win.

That’s why it was rather surprising to hear Julien call out Rask for not making “timely saves” following the Bruins’ third-period collapse in a 3-2 loss to Winnipeg last Tuesday. But even more surprising was Julien’s response when asked about Rask making timely saves Monday.

“Yeah, that’s what we need every once in a while,” Julien said. “Their goaltender [James Reimer] did the same thing at their end.”

Once in a while? Rask clearly has given the Bruins timely saves and more on most occasions this season. As center Patrice Bergeron pointed out following the game, the Bruins' recent struggles were the result of a lack of focus from his teammates in front of Rask.

“I think it’s about everyone picking it up, and I think that’s not just for [Rask], but for ourselves, for us as a team,” Bergeron said. “We had to be better overall, and we still need to better. I think it was a step forward. We still have some work to do, and that’s the way it goes. You’ve just got to keep fighting through it, but we have a lot of confidence in [Rask], and he does the job, so we’ve got to do it in front of him as well.”

Later in his postgame remarks, Julien again was asked about Rask and whether his performance was back to the dominant play he has shown for most of the season. The Bruins' bench boss got a bit defensive as he seemed to realize the effect his comments could have in the media and among fans.

“I don’t think Tuukka’s been bad at all guys,” Julien said. “I hope people didn’t read into Khudobin playing two games, because I think Khudobin deserved to play two games. He’s played well all season long, he played well in Ottawa, and this was an opportunity to get him two games in a row and that’s all it was. We’ve got a busy week this week and I needed Tuukka fresh and that’s all it was. So certainly had nothing to do with that.

“And Tuukka to me has been good and he’s never been bad, he’s been great and he’s been good. But you know, we’ve gotten some pretty good games out of him and I don’t think we can necessarily point the finger at him for losing any games for us this year.”

Julien then was asked how he felt Rask -- who to this point has only said he didn’t blame himself for the late goals in Winnipeg -- may be dealing with his coach's comments. Julien cited last season when Rask and Tim Thomas split the goaltending duties as an example.

“I don’t know, I think it’s one of those things that everybody reads it whichever way they can. And you know that from the goaltender last year,” Julien said.

Rask basically has taken the high road since Julien’s comments in Winnipeg. But one has to wonder if Julien is trying to light more of a fire under his netminder by starting a controversy or if he is simply being the blunt coach he always has been? If Rask continues to play the way he did Monday and for the better part of this season, we may never know as such comments would be completely out of place.