Haggerty: Rask picks up his game at best possible time

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BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask is going to start hearing fewer and fewer questions about his reliability in big games, and that's a very good thing for the Bruins.

Rask and the B's finished off their playoff hunt with in style, as the No. 1 goalie made 28 saves in recording his career-best eight shutout of the season in helping Boston clinched its first playoff berth in three seasons with a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay Tuesday night at TD Garden. He was at his best in the second period, making 17 saves and stepping up during a five-minute Lightning power play after Brad Marchand was bounced from the game for a spear to Jake Dotchin's groin. Rask and the penalty-killers shut the door, and then he stood tall in stuffing Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat on a couple of rebound chances that period as well.

It's feeling more and more like Rask sitting out that Saturday night game in Brooklyn was a turning point for him and the team. He's 4-0-0 with a .972 save percentage and three goals allowed in four playoff-style games since returning.

"He's come back and looked structurally sound, controlling his rebounds, playing pucks well, pretty much every facet of his game is solid," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "I think . . . that breeds confidence [in his teammates], so I think our D are able to get up and close their gaps and have the confidence that if they are a little bit off, the goaltender is there to make the saves. Then, you know, they're more willing to get out and block a shot knowing that if it does get by them and they're exposed a little, that there will be another partner there and a goalie there. It just goes hand in hand. The better the goalie plays, it seems like the more confidence everyone has throughout the lineup, and we're no different."

Clearly it's a feel-good moment for a goalie anytime there's a shutout, and to toss one at Tampa Bay in a playoff-spot clincher had to be pretty sweet for Rask, who -- with his team -- has fallen apart a bit down the stretch in each of the last two seasons. But he was quick to point out the job done in front of him . . . which has also been a hallmark of the B's six-game winning streak.

"It's always nice to get a shutout as a goalie obviously, but I think it just tells how we played as a team the whole 60 minutes," said Rask. "We start off great. They had nothing in the first. Then even on that power play they only had two shots, I think, so we did a tremendous job. Then we just got the lead with some nice goals .  . . So overall it was just a great effort from top to bottom.

"I've felt good. Obviously had some tough games, but I've felt good all along. As I mentioned before, even on that four-game losing streak I played a couple of really good games and so did everybody else. We just ended up losing, and then obviously the blame falls on the goalie. But I felt good all along, and, you know, lately the way we've been playing defensively has helped a lot for me and Dobby (backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, who's had two victories during the winning streak), too."

All of that bodes well for Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs if Rask can continue to play with the kind of battle and focus he's shown in the last couple of weeks.

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