SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 1: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins watches a replay during first period action against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on November 1, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 2-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Tuukka Rask is carrying the Bruins right now

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Tuukka Rask was probably not at his best during the 2015-16 season for the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t necessarily have a bad season, but it just seemed like a bit of a down year for him when compared to the standard he has set for himself during his four-year run as the team’s full-time starter that has included a Stanley Cup Final appearance and a Vezina Trophy.

He was OK, but not great. Not what the Bruins have seen from him in recent years when he was consistently one of the three or four best goalies in the entire NHL.

When you combined his league average save percentage with the lackluster defense in front of him, it helped lead to a second straight year with no playoffs in Boston.

Given the current state of that defense, which is mostly unchanged from a year ago, if the Bruins are going to end their current playoff drought they are going to need Rask to go back to being one of the best at his position. Given his track record, it was probably only a matter of time until he returned to that level.

Through the first month of the 2016-17 season, Rask has done exactly that and is probably been the team’s MVP through the first month of the season.

Boston perfect a 6-0 when Rask is in the lineup, while his .951 save percentage is currently third best in the league entering play on Saturday, behind only Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (in only three starts) and Montreal’s Carey Price.

When you compare the Bruins’ performance in the games he has played (all of their wins) to their performance in the games he has missed (0-4 while the three goalies that have started in his place have had a sub-.890 save percentage) and it’s easy to see how he his play has been driving the team this season, especially as the offense has not quite started to click the way it did a year ago (when the Bruins were one of the highest scoring teams in the league) with only 24 goals in their first 10 games.

They have already won three games this season where they have scored two goals or less.

They only won six games under similar circumstances all of last season. So it’s not just the fact that he has won a lot of games for them so far, he has probably stolen a couple as well.

The Bruins are still a flawed team on the blue line, and they probably are not going to score at the same pace they did a year ago. That means goaltending is probably going to be the ultimate X-factor in whether or not the Bruins get back to the playoffs or extend their postseason drought to three years. So far this season Rask looks like he is back to being one of the elites at the position and is perhaps the single biggest reason the team has avoided what could have been an ugly start in the standings.

Beleskey a scratch, Kuraly to make NHL debut for Bruins

COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 16:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins skates after the puck during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 16, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Boston defeated Columbus 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins will have another rookie in the lineup tonight in Tampa Bay, as winger Sean Kuraly is expected to make his NHL debut against the Lightning.

Kuraly will replace left winger Matt Beleskey on the much-maligned third line with Riley Nash and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey, Nash, and Hayes have all been held pointless so far this season.

The Bruins will also get winger David Pastrnak back from his suspension. Pastrnak will be reunited with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top line.

The lines at the morning skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak
Spooner-Krejci-Czarnik
Kuraly-Nash-Hayes
Schaller-Moore-Acciari

Kuraly, 23, was originally drafted by San Jose in 2011. He was acquired by the Bruins last summer as part of the Martin Jones trade. This is Kuraly’s first professional season after four years at Miami (Ohio) University. Prior to gettihttps://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs/status/794227039788290048ng called up, he had one assist in eight games for AHL Providence.

The Bruins will have three other rookies in the lineup tonight: forwards Noel Acciari and Austin Czarnik, and defensemen Brandon Carlo. Two other rookies, d-man Rob O’Gara and forward Danton Heien, have played games for Boston but are currently in the AHL.

rooks

As for Beleskey, it’s not clear if he’s simply a healthy scratch or if he suffered an injury Tuesday in Florida, where he slid hard into the Bruins’ net on a back check:

The Bruins (5-4-0) have scored just nine goals in their last six games. They’ve won their last two thanks in large part to goalie Tuukka Rask.

Update:

Help on the way: Bruins get Pastrnak back, while Backes getting closer

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 15:  David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game on October 15, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Bruins 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins will get David Pastrnak back from suspension tomorrow in Tampa Bay. Because of that, they announced this morning that forward Danton Heinen has been assigned to AHL Providence.

Heinen, a 21-year-old rookie, played seven games for the B’s, failing to register a point while skating mostly with center David Krejci.

Indeed, scoring has been an issue for the Bruins (4-4-0), who now have the 26th-ranked offense in the NHL. The B’s have won their last two thanks to the return of Tuukka Rask, but nine games into the season they only have four players with two or more goals: Brad Marchand (5), Pastrnak (4), Dominic Moore (3), and David Backes (2). Six others have one, the rest none, for a total of just 20 goals.

Backes has missed the last four games due to elbow surgery. He won’t play tomorrow in Tampa Bay, but the 32-year-old was back skating today in Boston, suggesting a return Saturday at home to the Rangers may be in the cards.

Tomorrow against the Lightning, Pastrnak could be reunited with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top line, with Krejci centering a second line between Austin Czarnik and Ryan Spooner.

However they line up, the Bruins could really use some scoring beyond their few contributors to date. Wingers Matt Beleskey and Kevin Hayes have each been held pointless in their first nine games. Those two have mostly been centered by newcomer Riley Nash, who’s also been held pointless.

“There are some guys that aren’t where they should be production-wise,” said head coach Claude Julien, per CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty. “You hope it’s gonna come and they get their game where it should be.”

The return of Backes could help in one of two ways. First, he could play right wing with Krejci. Or two, he could center Beleskey and Hayes.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, he can’t do both.

As for Heinen?

“We saw some spurts of [creativity and offense] during the regular season, but in his case he probably needs to go down there, get better, get more confident and get stronger,” said Julien, per CSN New England. “We talked to him about that as far as getting better, but we’re certainly not unhappy with him. I thought he had a great camp and he’s going to be a great player for the future, whether it’s shortly or a little later. I think he has all the potential to be a good player in this league.”

Rask looks stellar again in Bruins victory

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins tends net against New Jersey Devils during the second period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore scored to lead the Boston Bruins to a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.

Tuukka Rask stopped 33 shots to help the Bruins win their second straight after a three-game skid.

Denis Malgin scored for the Panthers and Roberto Luongo had 24 saves in Florida’s fourth loss in five games.

Trailing 2-0, the Panthers got on the scoreboard on Malgin’s first NHL goal with 4:35 left in the third when his shot from the slot beat Rask. It snapped the Bruins goalie’s shutout streak of 131:11.

The Panthers pulled their goalie with 3:20 left during a power play to give them a 6-on-4 advantage but couldn’t score.

The Bruins were outshot 13-3 in the first period but Marchand gave them a 1-0 lead with his goal on the penalty shot 3:53 in. Reilly Smith was called for hooking Marchand from behind. Marchand then skated in on Luongo and put the puck over his glove for his 300th NHL point.

The Bruins made it 2-0 on a short-handed goal by Moore at 6:16 of the second. Moore’s angle shot from below the left circle rolled in and out of the net so quickly that the goal light didn’t go off and play continued, but an official’s review a few seconds later determined the puck had crossed the goal line before it came out.

The Panthers were on the power play seven times but couldn’t score as they managed only six shots, and gave up the short-handed goal to Moore in the second.

NOTES: Florida RW Jaromir Jagr played in his 1,639th NHL game, tying him with Dave Andreychuk for sixth on the all-time list. … Panthers RW Jonathan Marchessault, 25, has been named the NHL’s third star for October, tying for the league lead with six goals and adding five assists in nine games. … Bruins RW David Pastrnak, who leads Boston with five goals, sat out the second of a two-game NHL suspension for a high hit against the New York Rangers.

Rask, Bruins snap Red Wings’ six-game winning streak

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins makes a save during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Tuukka Rask made a little (admittedly specific) history on Saturday, and he also made the Boston Bruins sigh with relief.

By stopping all 24 Red Wings shots on goal, Rask earned his 31st shutout, tying Tim Thomas for third all-time in Bruins history.

Boston needed every one of those saves, too, as the Bruins were only able to beat red-hot Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard one time to win 1-0. Howard made 35 out of 36 saves, continuing Detroit’s remarkable early run of goaltending.

Speaking of remarkable early runs, the Bruins ended the Red Wings’ winning streak at six games with this result.

More relevant to the Bruins: they ended a three-game skid of their own, going to .500 at 4-4-0 in 2016-17.

That’s the kind of record some expected to see for a perceived bubble team, but some of those stumbles may be at least partially attributed to Rask’s injury-related absence. Their fortunes certainly look a little more promising with him – and this win – after tonight.