Rask plays difference-maker in sweep of Pens

Rask plays difference-maker in sweep of Pens
June 8, 2013, 10:45 am
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With a 12-4 record to go along with a 1.75 goals against average and a .943 save percentage, Rask has also thrust himself into Conn Smythe talk

(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON – Well-deserved paeans will be written of the Bruins defense suffocating the Pittsburgh offense, and plenty of credit will be placed upon the shoulders of players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.

But the biggest Bruins player to emerge from the Eastern Conference Finals uprising in four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins was goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped 133 of the 135 shots that he faced en route to a four game stunning sweep of the Penguins that puts the Bruins back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years.

Rask made a tidy 26 saves in picking up his second shutout of the series, and put up a ridiculous .985 save percentage while playing perfect hockey against the high-powered Penguins attack.

The 1-0 victory for the Bruins in Game 4 was Rask’s second shutout of the series, and the perfect marriage of a defense grinding down a high-powered opponent with a goaltender playing at his very best behind it all as the last line of ‘D.’ That can be a very powerful combination as the Penguins now know all too well. Interestingly enough, Rask’s performance inspired Bruins coach Claude Julien to hearken back to lessons learned from Tim Thomas when espousing the clutch play of the Finnish goaltender.

“Timmy did it for us for numerous years. To a certain extent, you got to hope that Tuukka learned from that as well, seized the moment when he had the chance. They're different personalities. Good personalities, but different personalities,” said Julien. “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 on to. Without that kind of goaltending, you don't get a chance at winning a Cup.”

With a 12-4 record to go along with a 1.75 goals against average and a .943 save percentage, Rask has also thrust himself into Conn Smythe talk entering the Stanley Cup Finals, just as Thomas did a couple of years earlier for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins goalie simply and beautifully didn’t make a single mistake to Pittsburgh, and it made all the difference in the world. Just take the word of somebody that agonized over each of Rask’s saves from the enemy bench, and was left astounded after the Bruins goalie ripped off the 53-save masterpiece in Game 3 that effectively broke the spirit of the Penguins.

“There's no question the performance he put in this series was elite. He was the difference in the series, there is no question,” said Dan Bylsma. “It's not like we didn't have good opportunities and good scoring chances. We had good looks at the net. We had good opportunities, even in Game 1, we had 12 scoring chances in the first period.

“He was the difference in that game. We weren't able to get on the board, get in a lead at any time in the series. Again, Game 3's performance, he was a 50-plus A performance, outstanding, spectacular in a lot of his saves. Tonight, he was up to the task. No question about this [series] being his best performance.”

Rask was at his best at the end of Game 4 protecting a 1-0 lead as Pittsburgh pulled Tomas Vokoun, and swarmed the Boston net with their last gasp of offense. They managed to knock Rask’s stick away from the goaltender at one point, and Zdeno Chara was forced to stand in and make a glove save on Evgeni Malkin in front of an open net.

But the Bruins goalie had sufficiently recovered by the closing seconds, and gloved a Jarome Iginla shot from the slot as time expired to provide Boston with their second shutout win in the four game series.

“It’s just a scramble. You can’t see anything and people are laying everywhere. You don’t have a stick,” said Rask. “You’re just kind of trying to throw yourself as big as you can and try to stop the puck.

“We’ve been together for a long time. We kind of know what we do, and we can read each other plays and stuff. We blocked a lot of shots and our D [defense], they have really good sticks usually, they take care of the passing lanes and the rebounds. It’s just fun. It helps my job a lot.”

In all Rask stopped 133 of the 135 shots that Pittsburgh tossed at him, and helped backbone a Bruins defense that the Penguins superstars had zero answers for throughout the series. There is clearly still one series to go while Rask and the Bruins wait for the Blackhawks and Kings to finish out there series, but the 26-year-old Finnish goalie has proven to everyone that he’s going to be the man between the pipes in Boston for a long, long time.