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January 22, 2013

Horton, Rask are X-factors for Bruins to remain No. 1

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins have begun this season ranked No. 1 in the NHL.com Super 16, but they will be No. 1 at the end of the season only if goaltender Tuukka Rask puts himself in the running for the Vezina Trophy and right winger Nathan Horton stays healthy and provides consistent offense all season.

Rask and Horton are my two X-factors for a first-place Eastern Conference finish and a deep Stanley Cup playoff run.

Rask, Horton and the B’s have begun this lockout-shortened season 2-0. The latest victory was a 2-1 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets here at the TD Garden yesterday afternoon.

The 25-year-old Rask stopped 26 of 27 shots in regulation and has allowed just two goals in two games as he and the Bruins won 3-1 over the mighty New York Rangers here at the Garden on Saturday.

Rask has the ability to be one of the top three goaltenders in the NHL. Just look at what he did during 2009-10 when he went 22-12 in 45 games, 39 starts, and led the league in goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931).

Bruins Chris Bourque of Boxford remembers facing Rask in the 2006 World Junior Championships. Bourque led that tournament in goals with seven while playing for the United States. Rask, meanwhile, posted a 4-2-0 record and was named the tourney’s top goaltender while playing for Finland.

“We played him in the bronze medal game,” Bourque said. “(Finland) beat us so obviously he was a big reason for that. We had a pretty good team there. But yeah, you could see he was going to be a really good goalie. And he’s kept that form.

“You could tell he had the talent back then and he’s backed it up at this level.”

Bourque called Rask a “world-class goalie” who is ready to be the Bruins starter.

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