Tuukka Rask didn’t want to make too much out of his strong performance for the Boston Bruins in a 4-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium.
“It is a special stage, but I think for me you always try to approach the game like any other game,” said Rask, who made 36 saves. “I don’t think in the standings it is anything special, but it is my third [outdoor] game that I got to be a part of and the second I played in. It’s nice to get the win, too.”
Rask started for Boston in the 2016 Winter Classic, allowing five goals on 30 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. In the 2010 Winter Classic, he was the backup to Tim Thomas in a 2-1 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But so far this season has been an up and down for Rask, one of the reasons his teammates said it was special for him to deliver a signature game on a significant stage, possibly signaling a change in fortune.
“He was the [Rask] we want to see on a nightly basis and he does it on the big stage,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “His career stats speak for themselves. In order for us to win a lot of hockey games and bigger hockey games going into [Stanley Cup] Playoffs and things like that, we are going to need a guy like him to step up and play good. Hopefully it is the start of something.”
Rask has had trouble getting something going this season. He struggled out of the gate before taking a leave of absence in November, opening the door for backup Jaroslav Halak to get the majority of the starts (21-19) three months into the season.
As a result, Rask wasn’t a sure thing to start the Winter Classic despite being the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie since the start of the 2012-13 season.
Rask, who is 10-8-2 in 21 games, has yet to win three games in a row and has played seven games where he has posted a sub-.900 save percentage. His goals-against average (2.63) is the highest since 2010-11 (2.67) and his .914 save percentage is the lowest in his NHL career.
But Rask is fighting through the struggles. He has won two in a row and four of his past six starts and passed Tiny Thompson on Tuesday for most starts in Bruins history (469).
“I thought he played well,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Like I said before, we couldn’t go wrong. It’s an area of strength for us. We win either way, not in terms of the game, but in who we choose [to play]. Tuukka has strung two together now.
“I think we were good in front of him in spots. The second period got away from us. [Rask] made some big saves and I was happy for him. We want to get him in a rhythm where he is playing well and has a good chance to win every night.”
Rask saved his best for last against the Blackhawks. After the Bruins took a 3-2 lead on a goal from Sean Kuraly at 10:20 of the third period, he made six saves, including a chest save against Patrick Kane alone in the slot with 40 seconds remaining.
Brad Marchand scored an empty-net goal seven seconds later.
“Pretty big event today and I thought he brought his best game of the season,” forward Jake DeBrusksaid. “We needed it, especially at the end. I felt he was the biggest reason we won today.”
Said defenseman Kevan Miller, “He’s been our rock back there for so long. Hats off to him. He played a strong game back there and kept us in it. That is his M.O. He’s always been there for us and we thank him for that.”
In the end, after trying to dismiss the importance of the game, Rask admitted that the Winter Classic will eventually hold a special place for him.
“I think these are the experiences when you are done with your hockey career, you will look back and be happy you were a part of,” Rask said. “I’m very, very fortunate and appreciative to be a part of three of these games.”