BOSTON – Perhaps Sidney Crosby will think twice about bumping and cross-checking Tuukka Rask the next time around?
The Penguins center made a point of targeting the Bruins goaltender at the end of the second period of Game 1 as Rask made his way off the ice, hoping to rattle the 26-year-old Bruins goaltender. Maybe he was foolish enough to believe that Rask is the same goaltender that he was three years ago as a fresh-faced rookie manning the pipes in the Boston playoff collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Maybe Crosby thought there was some fragility there behind the mask of Rask, but now Sid the Kid and the rest of the Penguins find themselves down 3-0 in a series they can’t possibly win because Boston’s goaltender has allowed only two goals in three playoff games against a team that was averaging 4.27 playoff goals per game entering the series.
All the Finnish goaltender has done before, during and since Crosby's prodding is stop everything in sight. He stole Game 3 at TD Garden with a showman-like 53 saves in a 2-1 double overtime victory.
The game went well past midnight, but the Bruins goalie never displayed any fatigue despite being beyond the point of exhaustion.
“[I’m] tired, but it’s not awful. It’s past my bedtime,” said Rask. “I wasn’t cramping up today, which was good. I’ll regroup tomorrow, and get some rest.”
The 53 stops are a career-high mark for Rask, and further indication he’s the best he’s ever been.
Is this the best game Rask has every played in his career?
“I don’t rank games. It’s the playoffs and every game is important,” said Rask. “I don’t think you get these double overtime games too many times in your career, so I’ll probably remember this one.
“Every team plays a different style of hockey, and these guys like those backdoor plays and that little extra play all the time. For a goalie it’s extra important to stay patient. Some teams just like one shot through a screen, and you have to be extra patient to not go down too early. I think patience is one of the most important things to have if you’re going to be successful.”
Well, let’s do the Bruins goaltender a favor and officially dub the Wednesday night's head stand against the most explosive offense in the NHL, after midnight no less, as his first official moment of Bruins greatness.
For the series, Rask is 3-0-0 with a .982 save percentage and a 0.56 goals against average, and he has officially answered every single question about himself in the regular season and the playoffs. He has been everything the Bruins are looking for mentally, physically and emotionally in a successor to Tim Thomas, and he cut the hearts out of the Penguins on Wednesday night.
By the way, Rask (11-4 with a .940 save percentage and a 1.85 goals against) has been even better than Thomas was two years ago (10-5 with a .929 save percentage and 2.34 goals against average).
“We should say he's been great all playoffs, and he's really given us the saves that we need and the energy, the momentum that we need in order to do the job in front of him,” said Patrice Bergeron, who was once again the overtime hero for Boston with Rask stonewalling the Penguins at the other end.
“They had some really good looks that we should have done a better job defensively...he bailed us out.”
Rask was stellar throughout the game, but was particularly good in the second and third periods when the Bruins were outshot by a 29-15 margin and gave Pittsburgh four power plays during that span. Many head coaches will tell you that the goaltender is always the most important penalty killer on the ice, and Rask is the biggest reason the vaunted Penguins power play is 0-for-12 in the series against Boston.
“They had over 50 shots, so I’m sure there were a couple of good chances for them,” deadpanned Rask.
There were plenty of good chances with Evgeni Malkin generating 21 shot attempts. James Neal was stopped twice on the power play in the second period, then Rask stuffed Beau Bennett on a nifty move cutting through the slot to the front of the net.
Malkin stole a puck from Dennis Seidenberg in the second period on a trip all alone to the net on the left wing, but Rask stuffed that one with a right leg pad save.
There were no leaping Thomas-like Superman saves or gymnastic routines in the crease, but instead it was a quiet, economical concert of butterfly saves and quick pad stops with a glove that caught everything.
If Rask had even a moment of hesitation, then the Penguins were going to push a puck past him in overtime, but he never gave off even a hint of weakness while stopping shot after shot. Fortunately, the Bruins finally caught up to the Penguins in the overtime sessions and took advantage of the opportunity to steal the game provided by their shutdown goaltender.
“What can you say? If you keep talking about those first three periods they were probably the better team, there's no doubt we were still in it because of [Rask],” said Claude Julien. “He's extremely calm. I think he used a lot of that energy this morning in practice, so it calmed him down for tonight, which was probably a good thing.”
There’s no reason to think Rask won’t finish off the rest of this current B’s playoff run with the same kind of quiet, efficient excellence that he’s shown in the first three rounds -- one “Butt Stumble” at Madison Square Garden aside.
There were plenty of legitimate questions about the Bruins goaltending when Rask signed a “prove it to me” one-year contract for $3.5 million before this season began, and now they’ve all been answered.
Rask will be paid quite handsomely with a long-term, big-money contract (that might even surpass Montreal's recent deal with Carey Price for 6 years and $39 million) as the Bruins goalie is proving he might even be better than the legendary, working-class hero he replaced between the pipes.