BOSTON – As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, Jarome Iginla flicked a shot on net that Tuukka Rask calmly gloved just before the buzzer sounded. It was fitting that the series ended with a shot from Iginla, the man who vetoed a trade to the Bruins so he could go to Pittsburgh instead. But it was even more fitting that the series ended with Rask firmly in control.
There will be a lot made of the Penguins’ stars going silent, and rightfully so. Iginla, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang all finished the series with zero points.
But this series was about Tuukka Rask. The Bruins’ netminder stopped 134 of the 136 shots the Penguins threw at him, good for an absolutely preposterous .985 save percentage. His two goals against were the fewest ever allowed by a Bruins goalie in a series.
“I think it’s great,” said coach Claude Julien of Rask’s play. “Timmy [Thomas] did it for us for numerous years. To a certain extent, you hope that Tuukka learned from that as well, seized the moment when he had the chance. Although they’re different personalities, I think a lot of Timmy’s commitment and desire to be the best he could be every night has rubbed off on Tuukka. Tuukka has learned from that. Right now he’s in a zone that you hope he can hold onto. Without that kind of goaltending, you don’t get a chance at winning a Cup.”
Rask had been very good all season. He came up with some big saves against the Maple Leafs in the first round. He was great against the Rangers in the second round, even if he did have that stumbling blunder in Game 4.
But the Penguins were a different animal. This was one of the most prolific offenses of the last 20 years. Surely it would be nearly impossible for Rask to replicate what he did against New York, when he allowed more than two goals just once in five games.
Rask didn’t replicate what he did against New York. He topped it by leaps and bounds. He stopped all 29 shots he faced in Game 1, then 26 of 27 in Game 2. It was easy to overlook Rask’s play in those two games, though. The bigger story was the fact that the Bruins had blown Pittsburgh out of the water in both games.
But there was no overlooking Rask in Games 3 and 4. He put together an incredible 53-save performance in a 2-1 double overtime win in Game 3. Then he finished the series off with a 26-save shutout in a 1-0 victory on Friday night. The Bruins probably would’ve won the first two games even if Rask had only been good, but they needed him to be great to win the last two, and he was. Patrice Bergeron said it’s probably the best goaltending he’s ever played in front of.
“I think so. I guess we’re just used to it now,” Bergeron said. “We’re kind of just expecting it. We don’t talk about him enough, but he’s been amazing all playoffs.”
Considering that Rask had such a historically great series, it may seem odd that there wasn’t really a definitive moment for him. There was no diving stick save like the one his predecessor, Tim Thomas, made in Game 5 against Tampa Bay in the 2011 conference final.
But the more you think about it, that isn’t odd at all. Rask very rarely makes a flashy save. It’s not because he can’t or because he doesn’t face tough chances. It’s because he’s always in such good position. He doesn’t need to dive to get to the post, because most of the time he’s already there. He doesn’t make that big, swooping arm motion on glove saves like you see from so many other goalies. He simply snags the puck and holds on, just like he did on Iginla’s final shot Friday night.
That unsexy style makes it easy to not be as impressed by Rask as you probably should be. His teammates don’t fall into that trap, though.
“I realize every single save he makes,” said David Krejci. “I know what kind of player he is. I know how hard it is to score goals on him in practice. He’s just showing everybody now. He doesn’t have to prove himself. He’s done it already. He’s showing everybody that he deserves the respect he’s been given lately. It’s great to have a goalie playing like this. Hopefully he can keep it up and help us win a few games in the final.”
This was Rask’s team from the start of the season. He had a couple tough stretches during the regular season, but ultimately he still ended up near the top of the league in pretty much every statistical category. In the playoffs, he has repeatedly answered any lingering questions about his ability to lead the team on a deep postseason run.
Now the Bruins are in the Stanley Cup final, and, with all due respect to Krejci, Rask is the biggest reason why. Tim Thomas got his Stanley Cup with his phenomenal postseason in 2011. If Rask continues to play like this, he could very well have his Cup in a couple weeks.