By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In what has been a year of stop-and-start runs from Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, last Saturday's victory over the Sabres featured some of Rask's most solid work to date, with the kind of stops the Bruins have longed for since his disastrous start.
Rask even turned a save into a zone exit, with the perfectly kicked rebound that allowed David Backes to blow out of the defensive zone and score the game-winning goal against the Sabres' Linus Ullmark. And with stops on all but one of the 32 shots thrown his way from the Sabres, the 31-year-old Rask has now rattled off three straight victories, and posted a .949 save percentage.
It's been the perfect rebound to what was a horrendous pre-Christmas effort in Carolina (five goals on 37 shots, including a gift-wrapped shorthanded goal that earned a callout from the B's coach after the loss).
These performances, along with Rask's recent history, have given the Bruins hope that Tuukka Time is officially upon them.
"This appears to me like to be his time of year, around this time, so maybe he’s feeling it again and off he goes," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said. "And listen, we’re just going to ride it if that’s what he brings. Then awesome."
It was around this time last season that Rask was in the midst of his 21-game point streak, and the centerpiece of a finish that saw him capture wins 31 of his final 39 starts, led by a 2.14 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
"I feel good. I felt good for a long time," Rask said last Saturday. "I think, you know, every game is different and you just try to be there and give your team a chance. Play good hockey, eliminating good scoring chances.
"So I think that goes to show we are playing good team hockey."
But speaking in regards to just Rask and not the team hockey in front of him, it's worth entertaining the possibility of this indeed being the start of Rask's first real run of the season, as alluded to by Cassidy. With Rask's Dec. 29 overtime win in Buffalo coming as his 18th start of the season, it got me wondering in regards to Rask's play around that timeframe.
Given the fact that this year is different from others (Rask did not make his 20th start until of the season until January), I decided to take a look at Rask's performances from his 18th appearance through his 41st of that respective season.
And over the last five years, this 18-to-41 stretch does indeed seem to be Rask's time of year, with a 63-32-16 record (64 percent point percentage) and .920 save percentage over that 111-game sample. Rask's worst stretch within this this sample came in 2016-17, with a 11-8-3 record and .903 save percentage. That sample saw Rask overworked by Claude Julien (who failed to trust any of his backups, be it Anton Khudobin or Zane McIntyre) en route to Julien losing his job to Cassidy.
It's highly unlikely that the Bruins will work Rask back into the latter scenario, especially with Jaroslav Halak still winning games (even if he's struggling to produce at the Vezina-level he has for the majority of the season), but it does sound as if Cassidy is ready to give No. 40 his real run at leading the Black and Gold back to the top of the standings this season.
"He’s winning hockey games," Cassidy said of Rask. "We’re playing well in front of him. I think we’re allowing him to see pucks better. I thought we did a real good job of that. He does look comfortable to me. I thought he’s getting more reps in the net, more starts. He’s certainly earning them. The guys have confidence in him, and things are working out right now."
It's enough for Rask to get the nod for Tuesday night at home against the Minnesota Wild.