Henrik Lundqvist has backstopped the New York Rangers to victory in each of their last four visits to Boston’s TD Garden. Tuukka Rask has been in net to collect each of the Bruins’ last three points earned on home ice against the Blueshirts, although he is winless in his last three bouts with Lundqvist.
The two Scandinavian stoppers figure to constitute the goaltending card in Saturday night’s NHL season opener. It will fall exactly 52 weeks to the date of their previous confrontation on the same TD Garden ice, where Lundqvist never trailed and ultimately prevailed in overtime, 3-2.
That shortcoming altered Rask’s lifetime record against the Rangers to 2-3-1, including a 2-2-1 run at home. Predecessor Tim Thomas was 5-9-3 in seven seasons of countering Lundqvist, including a 3-4-0 run over his three years of splitting the crease with Rask.
The tireless Blueshirts backstop is 19-6-2 all time in his seven-year career against Boston and has not missed a bout with the Bruins since the start of his sophomore campaign, in 2006.
In turn, Lundqvist has consistently scraped the blue paint in his cage every time Rask has started for the Bruins. Each of their encounters to date has been decided by a single goal, and neither party has allowed more than three opposing strikes (Lundqvist has yet to allow more than two).
The first of those six matchups came in Rask’s second North American campaign and happened to be his only NHL game of the 2008-09 season. He made that Jan. 31 afternoon at the Garden count, repelling each of 35 shots to win a 1-0 staring contest.
Rask met the Rangers again amidst his breakout rookie season. He would lose his only visit to Madison Square Garden, 3-2, on Jan. 4, 2010, before bolstering his league-leading goals-against average and save percentage by means of a 2-1 triumph on March 21.
Getting the nod for the two home installments of the 2010-11 season series, Rask blinked early on two quick goals, and the Bruins never recovered in a 3-2 loss on Oct. 23. He later let the only goal slip by immediately off a draw in his zone to drop a 1-0 decision on March 26.
With those two regulation losses and the regulation tie/overtime drawback last time, Rask is three full games removed from the last time he had a lead to protect against the Rangers.
Each time he has encountered Lundqvist, the eventual winning team has scored first and never trailed. In two cases, New York has raised 2-0 upper hands and held on for 3-2 wins, while, in Rask's last win, nearly three years ago, Boston struck twice and rendered the Rangers’ late, third-period icebreaker irrelevant.
That trend has not been much different when the now self-idled Thomas has faced Lundqvist, although the most recent clash between these franchises was a notable exception. On April 1, 2012, Marian Gaborik beat Thomas to help the Rangers take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission before Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron scored unanswered en route to a 2-1 victory for the Bruins.
For what it’s worth, all of those seesaw showdowns have taken place at Madison Square Garden. In Boston, since the formation of the Rask-Thomas tandem in 2009, the team scoring first has at times authorized equalizers but always emerged with two points in the standings.
Regardless, with Rask sure to see a dense majority of crease time for the first time in his career and quite likely to play all three scheduled games against the Rangers, the door is open to a little more variety. There is an instantly increased likelihood for lead changes, which Rask has experienced against other teams and other goalies but never against the otherworldly Lundqvist.
With nothing but his history to take onto the clean sheet in 2013, Rask cannot do himself much harm if he fosters a healthy helping of conviction in the event the Bruins spot him a 1-0 lead.
But if he blinks first, it will be a new test of resiliency and poise for him and his skating mates. The Bruins have tucked three pucks behind Lundqvist four times over the previous four seasons, only to go 1-3-0 in that situation.
Which means the margin for error is as brittle as always.
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