The Bruins are scheduled to release Tuukka Rask from mothballs tonight and let him make the start at Buffalo.
Rask, who hasn’t started consecutive games all season and only appeared in back-to-back games once because of a relief appearance Nov. 5 in Washington, has sat and watched Tim Thomas make the last seven Boston starts since the Finn’s last appearance Dec. 15 in the same building he’ll play tonight.
So far, Rask’s results in limited playing time have been mixed. Of course, he started the season by allowing four goals on 36 shots in Prague opening night. Since then he has produced one shutout, one one-goal game and one two-goal game while compiling a 2-7-1 record and 2.57 goals-against average. More telling might be his .927 save percentage, which would be tied for fourth in the NHL if he qualified among the league’s leaders.
Tonight, however, will be the stiffest test yet for Rask, whose previous longest stretch without a start was four games (twice) — but more importantly 13 days (Oct. 10-22). Now he hasn’t started in 16 days, which might feel like a lifetime to a guy who has been a No. 1 netminder for numerous years. Even as a rookie sharing time with the defending Vezina Trophy-winner last season, he had appeared in 16 games by the time the calendar flipped from ’09 to ’10.
The Bruins have boasted about theirs being the best one-two goaltending punch in the league dating back to last season. Thomas has held up his end of that bargain with all-world production (1.74 GAA, .947 save percentage). Now it’s time for Rask to show he can shake off the rush and pick up the slack against a Buffalo team that’s ranked 21st in goals scored per game this season.
In his previous meeting with the Sabres, Rask was working on just five days rest and lost while allowing a hat trick to Buffalo forward Drew Stafford.
The Bruins know they need to strike a balance between riding Thomas’ hot hand and preserving him for the stretch run and postseason. A vintage ’09-10 performance from Rask tonight would make the job of juggling goaltenders a lot easier.