Tuukka Rask could hear the cheers – and the ‘Tuuuuukkkk’ chants – building during the first television timeout on Tuesday night. The appreciation showering down upon him reached a crescendo when Boston’s all-time winningest netminder began to reciprocate that gratitude with a wave to the Black & Gold faithful that have supported him for the last 13 years – and now 500 regular-season games.
Rask became the 72nd goaltender in National Hockey League history and the first Bruins backstop to accomplish that feat, as he got the start between the pipes against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that drafted him out of his native Finland in 2005.
“It’s super nice. I mean it’s one of those milestones you’re only going to hit once – if you ever get there,” said Rask. “And I wanted to recognize the crowd. They’ve been behind me and the team for so many years so it’s a nice moment… I’m just super happy that I’ve been part of this organization in a town like this for so many years.”
The 32-year-old sent the TD Garden crowd home just as happy after stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced from the Maple Leafs in a 4-2 victory that was clinched with third-period tallies from newcomers Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm.
“The guys on the ice, they want to win for him every night, but I think they realized tonight was a special night, and I thought we played pretty well in front of him,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I’m sure they’re very happy for Tuukka. Anyway, he’s on to 501 on Saturday probably.”
The win was the 269th of Rask’s career, extending his team record that was set last February. Rask is now 4-0-1 this season with a 1.77 goals against average and .944 save percentage, which leads the NHL. He ranks fourth in save percentage and wins.
“It’s great to see. It’s been 12 years together, something like that now,” said longtime teammate Brad Marchand, who had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to eight games. “It’s a lot of fun to see guys like that, that are such great people and teammates, hit big milestones. It means we’re getting old, but we’ve had a lot of fun together.
“He continues to find ways to improve and be better for this team and it’s a big reason why we’re a good team right now. It’s a lot of fun to see him continue to be a phenomenal goalie in this league and he will be for a long time still. He’s earned it.”
Marchand went on to praise Rask’s ability to tune out the noise – both positive and negative -pointing out that it is one of the main reasons why Rask has been an elite NHL goaltender for nearly a decade.
“Especially these big statement games. We do feed off that energy and emotion, when he’s just so calm when they’re coming down with a lot of momentum and they’re able to swing the tide their way,” said Marchand. “When you see him, he’s just not fazed at all. It kind of calms us down on the bench and gives us the reassurance that we can count on him and he’s going to be there for us and he has been for a long time now.
“We know that regardless of what game it is he’s gonna be there and we can rely on him to keep us in it and he’s doing that.”