NEW YORK – Tuukka Rask has been brilliant for the Bruins during the current postseason.
Rask is one of the four or five B’s players responsible for the Black and Gold surviving their first round tangle with the Maple Leafs, and advancing to the second round of the playoffs in the first place.
But the 26-year-old goaltender was also the point person most responsible for Thursday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden. A couple of his goaltending miscues ensured that the playoff series against their New York rivals is headed back to Boston.
Rask made 28 saves in the defeat and was at times brilliant in the second and third periods, and overtime, when the Blueshirts started gathering momentum and organizing themselves offensively. But he also had some moments when he was pretty distantly removed from brilliance.
Rask stumbled, both literally and figuratively, when the Bruins held a 2-0 lead in the second period, and it was unfortunate timing as it appeared Boston was ready to run the downtrodden Rangers bunch right out of the building.
Two mistakes by the Finnish netminder – one fully his fault, and the other just a partial error – allowed New York to get back into the elimination game, and ultimately paved the way for the overtime defeat that removed the possibility of a sweep off the board. The Bruins goaltender was still holding his head high following the defeat, and the reality is Boston is still in an ideal position up 3-1 in the series and headed back to the TD Garden ice.
“I don’t think a couple of mistakes are going to make us a bad hockey team,” said Rask, who has a .925 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average. “You just have to shake it off, and start moving on.”
The first gaffe from Rask was the more embarrassing of the two, as the Bruins goaltender attempted to hurry into position with Carl Hagelin rushing into the zone while Johnny Boychuk challenged him for the puck.
Unfortunately, Rask caught an edge and crashed right down onto his rear end while opening up a vacant net for Hagelin. The speedy Rangers forward flipped the puck into the wide open net, and both Boychuk and Rask watched helplessly while the puck crossed over the goal line.
The very clumsy fall for Rask at the most inopportune time is now paired with the images of Rask wiping out while slamming his stick against the boards in a fit of pique after a March shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Rather than something that simply looked uncoordinated, the spill in his own crease was on the other side of the universe from graceful.
“That happens to me twice a year in practice maybe. I’ve got to be more focused, I think,” said Rask. “It’s a tough mistake. It looks pretty bad on TV, I think. It was just sloppy.
“It freezes you. You still have a second to decide if you’re going to scramble or put the paddle down, or whack it away. I tried to whack it away, but it was just awful. We were pretty good. We weren’t as good as last game, but we gave them a couple of gifts. That was obvious.”
The effect of Rask’s unsightly save attempt was immediate and unmistakable.
The Bruins still held on to a 2-1 lead, but the Rangers were infused with energy and enthusiasm for the rest of the game after spending the first 30 minutes on death’s Stanley Cup door. That led to mistake No. 2 for Rask and Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara: Derek Stepan stripped Chara just as the 6-foot-9 defenseman was swinging the puck from behind the Boston net.
Both Rask and Chara defensive partner Dougie Hamilton failed to notify the B’s captain that he had a pesky fore-checker on his tail, and the Bruins goaltender compounded his own mistake by failing to protect the near post. Instead, he allowed Stepan to stuff the puck past him for the game-tying score, and that set everything else into motion for the rest of the game.
Failure to protect the post on a high risk breakout play like Thursday night’s botched job by Chara is on the goaltender just as much as the defenseman, and reveals a puck-stopper getting a little lax with his technique. That’s something a Bruins goaltender can’t afford at this point in the season when momentum becomes a pretty important piece of any playoff series.
Rask has earned plenty of plaudits for his play during the postseason, and by and large he’s outplayed James Reimer and Henrik Lundqvist through the first two rounds of the playoffs thus far.
But he was one of the main B’s players at fault in Game 4, and he wasn’t shirking that responsibility after the game as the assembled media was looking for an explanation. Instead it was his own doing, and for once it was mainly Rask’s fault rather than half-hearted back-checking or inexplicable mental errors in the defensive zone.
“[The mistakes] cost us a lot of energy, and a couple of leads, and [eventually] the game,” said Rask. “[On the second goal] I stopped the puck, we tried to wheel it and the guy surprised us. I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t see it.
“It’s a game of mistakes. Every team makes mistakes and every player makes mistakes, and you have to learn from them. [You have to] move forward.”
The Bruins most definitely have to move forward from such fluky mistakes, but they won’t move to anything meaningful if it doesn’t include Rask bouncing back fully from his first truly “off” game of the Stanley Cup playoffs.