By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
There may be several reasons why the Boston Bruins dominate the Florida Panthers, but none is bigger than the play of Tuukka Rask.
The Atlantic Division-leading Bruins will likely turn to Rask again Tuesday night as their goaltender seeks a 10th straight victory against the Panthers.
Boston (38-17-5) has won 12 of the past 14 meetings with Florida (23-31-7), including six in a row and all three this season. The Bruins have outscored the Panthers 25-4 during a five-game home win streak in the series, including a 6-2 victory Jan. 28.
Rask made 28 saves in that contest, improving to 9-0-0 with a remarkable 0.99 goals-against average and three shutouts in his past nine matchups. That nine-game run is tied with three others for the longest active streak against any opponent. A victory Tuesday would make Rask the first goalie with 10 consecutive wins since Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff did it versus Colorado from April 2, 2010-Dec. 8, 2011.
He is also two back of Tim Thomas' franchise record of 11 straight wins set against Ottawa from Jan. 31, 2008-Jan. 5, 2010.
Rask was brilliant in the first period of Boston's 6-3 road win over the New York Rangers on Sunday. He made 19 of his 39 saves in the opening 20 minutes, keeping the game tied at 1 while his team was outshot 20-9.
"He stood tall and we kept plugging away and getting the odd goal here and there," coach Claude Julien told the team's official website.
Julien surely would prefer to see a better start from his team, but he was pleased with their response against the Rangers.
"We got mad enough after the first 10 minutes that we reacted to doing something. That was huge," he said. "We just needed to get over that hump. Once we scored that first goal, it just seemed like everybody relaxed and we got better."
Slow starts haven't been a problem against the Panthers, as the Bruins have outscored them 9-1 in the first period over the last six meetings.
Milan Lucic had one of his two goals in the opening period of the most recent matchup with Florida, giving him seven goals in the last eight home meetings. He's totaled six goals and seven assists over his past 11 games.
David Krejci, who had two assists against the Rangers, has five points in the last three meetings with the Panthers, getting three in the January win.
Florida is trying to conclude a three-game road trip with back-to-back wins. The Panthers scored four unanswered goals in the third period to beat the New York Islanders 5-3 on Sunday, halting a four-game skid and a five-game road slide.
"We came out determined in the third," said Scottie Upshall, who had one goal and two assists. "We needed a spark and we found it. And we played with an edge."
Thomas will likely start opposite Rask again as he makes his second trip to Boston since taking the 2012-13 season off to spend time with his family. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner made 35 saves at TD Garden in January, and he had the same total Sunday.
Brandon Pirri could make his Panthers debut after being acquired from Chicago on Monday in exchange for two draft picks. The 22-year-old center has six goals and five assists in 28 games this season.
Updated March 4, 2014