There really shouldn’t have been any questions about Tuukka Rask coming into this series. All season long, he did everything you could’ve realistically asked of a goaltender. He finished near the top of the league in pretty much every goaltending metric, including a third-place ranking in save percentage.
The problem for Rask was that the expectations weren’t always realistic. Whenever he did have an off night, or whenever he let in a goal he should’ve had, that became the focus. To some fans and media, his great games were bounce-backs, while his bad ones were more than just off nights.
Perhaps Bruins observers just got spoiled by Tim Thomas’ two Vezina seasons, but the reality is that goalies are going to occasionally have bad games. They’re going to give up a few bad goals. Even the great ones. Rask won the Bruins a lot of games this season, and gave them a chance to win some more while the team in front of him played poorly over the final month and a half.
Still, some people needed to see more. They needed to see how he’d perform in the playoffs, see if he was capable of leading the Bruins on a deep run like Thomas did two years ago.
Obviously we don’t know about the deep run just yet, but Rask hasn’t given us any reason to doubt him. After not getting tested much in Game 1, then getting hung out to dry by his defense in Game 2, Rask has shown just what he’s capable of in these last two games, both road wins.
After stopping 45 of 47 shots in Game 3, Rask turned aside 45 of 48 in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory. His brightest moments came in the extra session, as he stopped 11 Toronto shots before David Krejci capped off his hat trick with the game-winner.
Eight minutes into the overtime, Rask made a stellar glove save on Joffrey Lupul that had Lupul looking to the rafters in frustration. A few minutes later, he denied a Phil Kessel snap shot and gobbled up the rebound with two Leafs bearing down on him. Krejci wound up scoring less than a minute after that.
The Bruins’ defense has been suspect for the last three games, and downright awful at times, but thanks to Rask and the offense, the B’s still have a 3-1 series lead.
On Wednesday, Rask had to overcome two first-period goals, both caused by his defense. On the first, Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden both collapsed to the same player, leaving Lupul wide open in the slot. On the second, Chara accidentally screened Rask on a shot from the point.
Rask made one big save after another to give his team a chance to come back, though. He stopped 14 shots in the second, 14 in the third, then 11 in overtime. The Bruins have at least done a good job of keeping most of Toronto’s shots to the outside these last two games, but Rask has still faced plenty of tough tests — more than the Bruins would like him to face.
With the offense clicking and Rask playing great, the only question facing the Bruins is the defense. They’ve proven in these last two games that they can still beat Toronto even without their defense being at its best. But, at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, they’ll need better defensive efforts in the next round. There aren’t many playoff teams that are going to give up as many scoring chances as Toronto, so scoring four goals per game probably won’t be sustainable.
As for Rask, the questions probably won’t completely stop until he gets past the second round. Three years ago when he was the starter, that was when he and the rest of the team collapsed, blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers. For now, though, Rask’s performances over the last two games will go a long way toward silencing his critics.