BOSTON (CBS) – Two U’s, two K’s, and just two goals allowed in 215 minutes of play.
That’s all Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask has allowed during the Eastern Conference Finals against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins, and after his ridiculous 53 save performance in Game 3’s double overtime victory, Boston is just one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“Well, what can you say?” head coach Claude Julien said following the 95-minute marathon victory. “If you keep talking about those first three periods (the Penguins) were probably the better team, there’s no doubt we were still in it because of him. 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.”
Julien isn’t the only one putting Wednesday night’s win on Tuukka. After shutting down the Penguins in the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Bruins’ defense struggled to contain the Penguins rush in Game 3. But when Rask needed to step up and make saves, he came through over and over again — making 29 of his 53 stops in the third period and two overtimes.
But this is nothing new during this current playoff run.
“He was great,” said Patrice Bergeron, who netted the game winner with 4:41 to go in the second frame of extra hockey. “Again, 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. They had some really good looks that we should have done a better job defensively, and he bailed us out.”
Against what is touted as the NHL’s most explosive offense, Rask has an astonishing .982 save percentage — allowing just two of the 110 shots he’s seen go past him.
Following Wednesday night’s epic performance, it’s understandable that the Finnish netminder was a little tired.
“It’s, I don’t know, 12:30 or something, five periods of hockey. Not the freshest feeling, but I think the win makes it a little easier,” he told reporters. “It was definitely a grind.”
As for his outstanding performance so far against the Penguins, it’s just business as usual.
“I don’t feel any better than I’ve felt throughout the playoffs,” he said, before praising his team’s defense. “I think our team is helping me out a lot. Although obviously you let in two goals in three games you’re making some good saves too. But we’re blocking shots and taking care of those rebounds pretty well. So they’re helping my job a lot.”
After a stellar regular season that saw him allow just two goals a game, the question remained what the 26-year-old would bring in the postseason. His only playoff experience prior to this run was in 2010 — when he posted a .912 save percentage over 13 games. That year will forever be remember as the year the Bruins let a 3-0 series lead slip away to the Philadelphia Flyers in the East semis, so Tuukka is aware there is still a lot of work to do to get the final clinching win against Pittsburgh.
“You can’t fall into that trap when you’re up 3-0. As I said every game means more and more than the one before,” he said. “So we just have to focus on what we have to do to win the hockey games and not look too far ahead in the future. We just have to play a solid game and see where that takes us.”
Rask was on the bench in 2011 with a front-row seat to Tim Thomas’ amazing playoff run. Now, he’s in the middle of writing his own postseason novel for the ages — one that looks similiar to that of Thomas’.
Here is the latest update to that comparison: Tuukka Rask through 15 playoff games is 11-4, with a .940 save percentage and a 1.85 goals against average. Thomas was 10-5, with a .929 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against average through 15 games — with Boston tied 2-2 with the Tampa Bay Lighting in the Conference Finals.
Thomas’ final chapter in 2011 ended with him hoisting the Stanley Cup and adding a Conn Smythe to his trophy room. Tuukka isn’t there yet, but he’s well on his way to a similar ending.
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