BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask has had it very tough this year.
He’s had it great, sure, but replacing the legend of Tim Thomas — and constantly being stuck in his Stanley Cup shadow — is a difficult way to live.
Yet, Rask never complained and never showed any frustration with, really, anything. He just went about his business with a 2.00 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in the regular season.
Still, questions remained about what kind of playoff performer he could be. Prior to this postseason, his only experience had been in that fateful 2010 postseason, the blown 3-0 series lead and Game 7 lead to Philadelphia being all anyone remembers. Headline writers and sports radio callers filled the market with “Can Tuukka step up in the playoffs?” and “What kind of postseason goalie is Rask?” and, essentially, “Tuukka will never be Tim Thomas.”
Now, 15 games into the playoffs, Tuukka hasn’t been Thomas. He’s been better.
The stats through those 15 games say so (1.85 GAA, .940 save percentage compared to Thomas’ 2.34 GAA and .929 save percentage), and the way the team is playing in front of him does too.
The unfair comparisons of Rask to Thomas will probably continue until Rask wins a Stanley Cup for this team, which is an absurd reality, because no goalie can ever single-handedly “win a Cup.” Regardless, in the middle of the questioning of his postseason mettle, of his performance in “close-out situations” and the lack of highlight-reel love, Rask has continued to keep it cool and calmly do his job between the pipes.
And finally, after a 53-save performance in his 15th game of the playoffs, Rask is finally getting credit for being his outstanding self.
Let’s get into a little more on Tuukka, plus plenty more from the Bruins’ thrilling 2-1 double-overtime victory in Game 3 against the Penguins.
–Just as remarkable as Rask’s 53 saves were the Bruins’ 25 blocked shots. Dennis Seidenberg, the German machine that played 40 minutes, blocked six shots on his own, while Johnny Manchuk blocked five. Gregory Campbell blocked two, with one of them proving very costly. His teammates took notice, obviously, and had plenty of great things to say about their gutsy fourth-line center. You can see what they had to say here.
–When a goalie makes 53 saves, there are too many highlights to list, but here are my top three.
The situation: At 6:16 of the second period, with the Bruins leading 1-0, Beau Bennett walked along the goal line and deked around Rask, who was hugging his right post. Rask stayed low, put his stick down on the ice, and stayed with Bennett along the crease to stop his eventual shot, which he tried to fit inside the opposite post. A typical calm, collected save by Rask, who deflected the puck into the post.
The situation: Less than a minute into the first overtime, the game looked to be over. A shot from the point got knocked down in traffic, but Evgeni Malkin was there to pounce on a loose puck and release a hard wrister toward Rask’s blocker side. It didn’t look like Rask had a good view of the puck, and I’m still not sure how he made a save with his right hip. But he did, and he held onto it to prevent any rebound opportunities, to keep the game going.
The situation: Some of the unfair criticism of Rask I’ve heard over the past two weeks came after Ryan Callahan beat him on a breakaway in the second round. As foolish as it may be to critique a goaltender for getting beat in a 1-on-1 situation, Rask made sure that wouldn’t happen this time. Jarome Iginla essentially created his own opportunity for himself by dangling through the legs of Boychuk and walking to the front of the net all alone. Rask dropped to the butterfly expecting a shot but had to scramble to his right to get into position to make a shoulder save as Iginla flipped a puck on net while falling to the ice. Rask also poke-checked the puck free to get it out of harm’s way, and the Bruins won three minutes later.
–OK, fine. Getting back to the right post on a Malkin mini-breakaway can make the list, too. Fine.
–When a goal bounces in off a defenseman’s shin pad, some call it a lucky bounce. I wouldn’t classify David Krejci’s goal as such, though. When you’re foolish enough to give him that much time behind the net and then that much space to walk to the front of the net, he’s going to kill you. The Penguins got what they deserved in that instance.
–The shift in double overtime when Sidney Crosby was skating around without his helmet was incredible. The only reason he didn’t score was that Boychuk threw his body in front of two shots and the hockey gods apparently weren’t paying attention. As it was happening, I could already see the endless stream of photos of a helmet-less Crosby celebrating on Garden ice, saving the season and turning around the whole season.
–The NHL and its stars are very different from the NBA and its stars. You already knew this, but I noticed a pretty stark contrast Wednesday night (Thursday morning, technically) when Patrice Bergeron stepped to the podium shortly after the win. Whereas an NBA star would take anywhere from 30-45 minutes to take a shower, put on an outfit worth more than most of our cars and carefully select a set of lens-free glasses, Bergeron was still wearing the athletic pants he wears under his pads while rocking the Army Rangers jacket.
Also, his face looked like this:
A pair of glasses without lenses would look out of place on that face right there.
–I know, that was kind of a point that didn’t need to be made. LeBron James was carried off the court in the Finals last year in “agonizing” pain because he had some leg cramps. Meanwhile, Gregory Campbell played on a broken leg for a full minute, willing to stand in the way of another 100 mph slap shot in order to help his team.
–The NHL, however, is starting to take on an NBA feel the way some of these games are being officiated. The refs gave the Rangers every possible advantage to win Game 3 in New York back in the second round, and they were in full-on “make this a series” mode in Game 3 this time around. Given that the officiating heavily favored the team trailing 2-0 in a series with the game’s biggest star on its roster, I’m sorry, but that’s fishy. It is. It’s what we’ve come to expect out of the NBA, but seeing it in consecutive series in the same situation raises red flags.
One of the more eyebrow-raising moments came when Brad Marchand bumped Chris Kunitz after a whistle to agitate Kunitz. It worked, because Kunitz whirled around and whacked Marchand with a slash. No penalty was called at first, as both players skated to their benches. The referees — Dan O’Rourke and Mark Joannette — then talked things over and decided the slash was too blatant to be ignored, so they called a penalty on Kunitz … and then called one on Marchand for kneeing. A lot of folks said Marchand deserved his two minutes, which is a fine point to make, except the referee did not call him for that penalty until after Kunitz slashed him. It’s either a penalty or not a penalty, and getting slashed afterwards shouldn’t change it. But it did.
The Krejci roughing call was also laughable (David Krejci — ruffian!). Many have argued that Jaromir Jagr hooked Evgeni Malkin before the game-winning sequence, and to be sure, he did. But in double overtime of a playoff game, that gets called zero times. Plus, as Barstool Sports’ Rear Admiral posted on Vine, Chris Kunitz using his hand to grab and pull down Lucic was more egregious and went uncalled in double overtime.
—Hey, if you’re someone who wanted Jaromir Jagr scratched for Game 2, you can feel free to hang your head in shame now. A key play on Brad Marchand’s second goal on Monday, and a board battle in his 27th minute on the ice to set up the game-winning goal on Wednesday is a decent showing for a healthy scratch.
—Bruins fans seeing Matt Cooke put his hands on Patrice Bergeron must be what it’s like to be the father of a daughter when an ex-con named “Snake” rolls up in his 1988 Pontiac Firebird to your house on a Friday night to pick her up for a date.
–Brenden Morrow is consistently the toughest guy on the ice … as long as there’s a man in a striped shirt standing between him and his enemy. After Johnny Boychuk bumped Morrow down to the ice in the first period for an interference penalty, Morrow had ample time and space to confront Boychuk, but he waited until two linesmen and a referee prevented him from getting to Boychuk before he began challenging the Bruins’ defenseman. After Boychuk got out of the box, Rask covered up a puck to draw a whistle. In the crease were Morrow and Boychuk. Morrow had his chance to get his shot in, but he declined, instead choosing to skate away … and begin shouting at Boychuk from 10 feet away while backing up toward his bench, again with linesmen between them.
Granted, I wouldn’t be too eager to get into a fight with Johnny Boychuk, but I also wouldn’t pretend like I’m willing to get in a fight with Johnny Boychuk.
–Is it surprising to you that a team that can’t keep track of how many skaters are allowed to be on the ice at one time is currently one win away from the Stanley Cup Final?
—I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something tells me that Milan Lucic is not afraid of Matt Cooke.
—Sidney Crosby, David Krejci and Chris Kelly all wear visors, so they seem like unlikely choices to be the ones to boldly protest the new mandatory visor rule. Yet there they were in Game 3, making Craig MacTavish proud.
–Shawn Thornton doesn’t need my sympathy, but I did feel badly watching him sit down the end of the bench as the team’s second door operator for pretty much the whole game. With the Bruins spending eight of the game’s first 33 minutes shorthanded, Thornton’s ice time was already low. But when Campbell suffered his injury, the fourth line was essentially no more. Daniel Paille got some time with the third line, as well as a ridiculous 5:40 of shorthanded time on ice. Thornton finished the 95-minute game with just 3:56 of ice time.
Thornton, however, was stuck playing the same role as Anton Khudobin, opening the bench for his teammates coming off the ice. He did it enthusiastically, and he was on his feet the entire time being a good teammate, but for a guy that brings as much energy as Thornton, it has to be tough being stuck as a spectator in the conference finals.
That means, in all likelihood, that the Penguins should keep their heads on a swivel for every second of Thornton’s ice time on Friday night. Keep that guy in a cage long enough, and you don’t want to be on the other team when he gets out.