BOSTON – You’ve heard it before and you’ll here it again. Two u’s. Two k’s. And now two Stanley Cup Final victories. Tuukka Rask has been stellar throughout these NHL playoffs, and his dominant play continued on Monday night. Once traded for former Boston netminder Andrew Raycroft, Rask has now solidified himself among the NHL’s best.
Playing on a one-year contract, per request of the Finnish netminder himself, Rask has done everything in his power to earn big money. Maybe one of the most underappreciated goaltenders in the league, Rask’s stellar positioning often limits his ability to make that “flashy” save, or the “top ten play.” Because of this, paired with almost perfect rebound control (when playing his best,) Rask doesn’t get the publicity he most definitely deserves.
After an impressive 2010 playoff performance, which ended in a Bruins collapse, many questioned whether Rask had what it takes to be an NHL champion. And due to the abrupt departure of Boston’s number one netminder Tim Thomas, the job was Rask’s to lose. The fifth-year pro had a terrific season in net for the Bruins, going 19-10-5 with a 2.00 GAA and .929 save percentage. He had already led the NHL with a nifty 1.73 playoff GAA, and that only improved with Monday night’s shutout victory, the third of his playoff career.
“He’s been focused since day one of the playoffs. You watch him on off days, you watch him, he’s quiet, focused, calm,” said coach Claude Julien. “Right now all his energy is put towards his game, how he needs to get his rest, relax. When the game starts, he’s a focused individual. Like I said, I’ve never seen a guy so calm, obviously confident with the way he’s played. Probably quietest I’ve seen him so far, but in a good way.”
While Rask’s calm, cool and collected style of goaltending might not fill up the highlight real like Boston’s former goaltender, he’s been equally effective on the ice. Play was fairly even as the first period of Monday night’s game went on, but with every Chicago chance Rask exemplified confidence that rubbed off on his teammates.
A number of times Chicago forwards used effective drop-passes to set up their defensemen with good looks, but Rask denied them with ease. Although the shots were from the outside, these were still solid scoring opportunities for the Blackhawks. Rask just made it look easy, which has been a theme with him from the season’s start back in January.
Similar to that of the Eastern Conference finals versus the Penguins, the goaltender already seems to be frustrating Chicago’s stars. But Rask also credits his defense for their effort.
“Tonight was great,” he said. If you take the first period out of the last game, I thought the last two periods in that game was really good. Today we continued to do that. I mean, they had shots, but most of them came from the outside. We eliminated a lot of those rebound opportunities. I think that’s something that every team likes to do, and we succeeded today.”
The final five minutes of the game demonstrated playoff hockey intensity, as Chicago’s best chances came with their own net empty.
“Well, I think I’ve gotten used to that already during these playoffs,” Rask said. “There’s been a lot of games like this that you don’t get quality opportunities, then all of a sudden, there’s four or five of them.
“But, I mean, you’re playing the last five minutes of the game, you know they’re going to throw everything at you, what they possibly can. That’s the case. Got the penalty there. Got a little lucky there, one save off my blade and the post. For the most part I think we kept them outside, took care of the rebounds. That’s always a positive sign in my mind.”
If Chicago has any chance of beating Rask and winning this series, they must play with that urgency right from the opening faceoff. They have to avoid cute play and try throwing everything they can at the net. They must simplify things, and they need to get bodies in front of Rask and work for those dirty area goals. They need to try playing more of a Bruins-style type of game, and beat them at it. But as long as Boston continues to play the way it has, that’s easier said than done.