Bruins can't rely on Tuukka Rask alone

BOSTON -- Niklas Svedberg was getting the start in net for the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, even before it was announced starter Tuukka Rask was scratched due to general soreness.

During the afternoon, the team announced goaltender Jeremy Smith was being recalled from Providence of the AHL on an emergency basis, and he served as Svedberg’s backup in Boston’s 2-1 shootout loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.

Rask was in the building, but there was no way he was playing.

He has already matched a career-high with 58 games played, and there are 12 games remaining in the 2014-2015 season, as Boston continues to fight for a playoff spot. The Bruins gained a point in Tuesday’s shootout loss, but the Ottawa Senators closed their gap and now trail by only four points for the second wild-card spot, after they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in OT on Tuesday.

Before his night off, Rask was 4-1-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in his past five games. He has played 25 of the past 27 games, and the last thing the Bruins need is to burn Rask out before a possible playoff berth.

The trick for Bruins coach Claude Julien has been to keep Rask sharp while also finding ways to rest him. “General soreness” is probably another way of saying "enjoy the night off."

The most recent time Rask was supposed to have the night off, Malcolm Subban started against the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 20. The rookie netminder allowed two goals on nine shots, so Julien made a goalie change.

When Rask was summoned into action, he was visibly upset. He was in complete shutdown mode and did not expect to play. He allowed three goals on six shots. Subban re-entered the game.

With the Bruins in the midst of 11 games in 18 days, Tuesday’s game against the last-place Sabres was a perfect time to give Rask the night off, so he watched in street clothes. No matter how Svedberg played, the Bruins probably didn’t want to chance Rask being forced into action.

Svedberg, who was told over the weekend he would start against Buffalo, played well against the Sabres and finished with 23 saves. The lone regulation goal by Buffalo, a power-play tally at 1:23 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1, was not his fault, as the puck was redirected off the skate of defenseman Matt Bartkowski.

Svedberg made a pad save during a Buffalo power play in the third period, when he stoned Buffalo captain Brian Gionta from pointblank range. But in the shootout, the Sabres’ Tyler Ennis provided the game-winning goal.

As disappointing as this loss was for the Bruins, it likely helped Rask to mentally, emotionally and physically shut down for at least one night.

Rask’s play this season, especially of late, is one of the main reasons the Bruins remain in the playoff picture. He’s 29-17-10 with a 2.26 GAA and a .924 SP in 58 games. Not only has he kept the team in contention, but Rask has also become a more demanding player. He has been vocal. He has been intense. He has held the players in front of him accountable all season.

“This year, I’ve noticed he’s taking on more [responsibility] and making sure everybody’s accountable,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said.

Added Krug, “You expect your best players to be your best players, and he’s been that for us. If we have a chance to do big things in this group, it’s because he’s playing at his best, and when he brings that, we’re a different team, a more confident team. That’s the most important thing, and he understands that, and our group understands that, as well.”

Even though Tuesday’s loss to the Sabres had nothing to do with Svedberg, it was another example of how the Bruins can’t rely on Rask alone to get this team into the playoffs.

Boston generated 45 shots on net Tuesday and scored only once on Sabres goaltender Anders Lindback. The Bruins dominated the offensive zone, but Lindback stifled the attack.

After the game, the celebratory eruption could be heard outside of the Sabres' locker room. The jubilation was warranted, given Buffalo’s subpar season and position dead last in the league standings. In fact, Tuesday’s win was only the Sabres' 20th of the season.

“It’s about results at this point of the year, and it is disappointing to get out of this game with only one out of two [points] against -- no disrespect, but still, it’s a game we have to win,” Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said.

It was a game the Bruins should have won, with or without Tuukka Rask in net.

As captain Zdeno Chara said: “At this time of the year, everybody has to raise his game.”