The Boston Bruins knew they were getting two key players back after long absences from their starting lineup for Saturday night's game against the San Jose Sharks. Yet it was the third unlikely addition to their team that was the big story and "saved" them from getting "shutout" of points on their West Coast trip.
The Tuukka Rask that was garnering Vezina Trophy buzz during the first half of the season returned to form, making 26 saves for his fifth shutout of the season as the Bruins topped the Sharks 1-0. Rask had been going through a rough patch as of late, getting pulled from goal in two of his last five games, including his last game against the L.A. Kings. Rask had given up 17 goals in those five starts, and picked up losses in four of them.
Loui Eriksson and Shawn Thornton returned to the starting lineup on Saturday night, as both had been out since December 7th. Eriksson missed 15 games with a concussion, while Thornton was suspended for the same period for blindsiding Brooks Orpik during the Bruins' game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Eriksson's return, and insertion onto the third line, paid immediate dividends as he was the key to the lone goal in Saturday night's game. Carl Soderberg picked up the puck deep in the Sharks' end and fed Eriksson at center ice. Eriksson's shot was blocked by Sharks' defenseman Scott Hannan, with the deflection shooting out to Soderberg, who was parked on the side of the Sharks' net. Soderberg took the loose puck and fired it past Antti Niemi for the game-winner with 7:35 left in the third period.
The Bruins had a great chance to pad their third period lead shortly after Soderberg's goal, with Brad Marchand receiving a slick pass from line mate Patrice Bergeron for an open chance on Niemi. Marchand tried to deke the Sharks' netminder by faking a forehand shot and holding the puck onto his backhand, but Niemi made the sliding save to keep the game at 1-0.
David Krejci had a chance to put the game away late, as he hit the goalpost on a chance while the Sharks had pulled Niemi to produce a man advantage during the last minute of the game. The Sharks were able to put two shots on net in the last few seconds of the game, but were not able to get anything past Rask, who now leads the league in shutouts with five on the season.
Niemi had 21 saves for the Sharks, who lost for just the second time in regulation at home this season. Both Niemi and Rask were recently named to the Finnish Olympic hockey team, with Kari Lehtonen from the Dallas Stars joining them as potential netminders in Sochi. The trio is considered to be one of the strongest in the Olympics, as Niemi and Rask showed how good they both can play during this game, limiting two solid offenses to just one goal combined.
The Bruins ended their three-game West Coast trip with a 1-2-0 record, dropping their previous two games to the Anaheim Ducks and the L.A. Kings. They will travel back to Boston for Tuesday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs before going back on the road for games against the Stars on Thursday night and a Stanley Cup matinee rematch with the Blackhawks next Sunday.