BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins are one lucky bunch. They’re not lucky for all the normal reasons, like a bad call or a fortunate bounce or a well-timed deflection.
They’re just lucky that they have Tuukka Rask.
Without a doubt, they dominated play in the overtime period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, and Daniel Paille’s game-winning goal to the series was well earned. But given how ugly the Bruins played in the first 20 or 30 minutes of the game, it was nothing short of a hockey miracle that they were even within striking distance late in the game.
Then again, given the way Rask has played this postseason, the miracle has become the norm.
“In the first [period], they were skating and we weren’t,” head coach Claude Julien said. “It was totally lopsided, and it was a hard period to coach and to watch.”
The coach was putting things nicely. The Blackhawks fired 19 shots on net, while the Bruins could muster just four. One of those came on a slap shot from center ice 10 seconds after the opening faceoff, and another was a shot only by technicality, credited to Rich Peverley after goaltender Corey Crawford poke-checked the puck off the forward’s stick. It was a total no-show for the Bruins, but for the man between the pipes.
“We were in survival mode there for a bit. It looked like they had more guys out there than we did,” said Rask, who stopped 18 Chicago shots in the opening 20 minutes. “We definitely played pretty bad. But it was good that we were only down by one, and we regrouped after that.”
The Bruins all said they regrouped after the first intermission, but the impact was slow to be seen. The Blackhawks, though slightly slowed down from the first-period onslaught, still fired four of the first six shots of the period, with Patrick Sharp spending the first half of regulation with more shots on net than the entire Bruins team.
“We were on our heels, we were second to the puck, we were just throwing pucks out of our own end, we weren’t making plays, we were standing still in our end, they were moving the puck around us and had a couple of point-blank shots,” Julien said bluntly of his team’s first-period performance. “We were just not ready to play.”
But midway through the second period, hard work began to pay off. Julien created a line with Paille on the left wing, Chris Kelly at center and Tyler Seguin at right wing — Julien called it a “hunch” — and it was almost instantly effective. Kelly, who hadn’t scored since mid-April, was in perfect position to jam home a rebound off Paille’s wraparound, and suddenly, the one-sided game was completely even.
“I think on my goal, it was a great five-guy effort,” said Kelly, while wearing the team’s Army Rangers jacket for player of the game. “Andrew [Ference] made a pinch, Tyler was in on the play and got it to Daniel, and Daniel took it to the net and I just happened to be there.”
From that point on, it was a mostly even game. Rask’s workload was lessened, with the Blackhawks mustering just four shots on net in the second period and five shots in the third. And once overtime began, it was all Boston.
Jaromir Jagr, now almost undeniably cursed by the hockey gods, ripped a shot off the post just 85 seconds into the overtime. Seguin fed Kelly in front for a point-blank one-time shot. David Krejci screened Crawford on a shot from the point, and the rebound slid loose into the slot. Milan Lucic had a backhand opportunity off a rebound but lofted it just over the top of the net. The chances just kept piling up, but none good enough to end the game.
Despite the Bruins controlling the pace of play, the job for Rask wasn’t any easier.
“I would say there’s a lot more pressure on Tuukka,” Jagr said of the OT, “because he could see it. We were playing in their zone, we had so many chances, and you never know. One bad pinch and they go 2-on-1 and he has to make the save maybe once in 10 minutes.”
Rask did turn aside all six shots he faced in the overtime period, helping to set up the game-winning snap shot by Paille, which went past Crawford’s glove and deflected in off the right post. In doing so, Rask improved his save percentage to .944 and his goals-against average to 1.73 in 18 playoff games.
After the victory, which knotted the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece with the series heading to Boston, the Bruins were happy, but they knew they were extraordinarily fortunate to only be trailing by a goal after getting outplayed in every way possible early in the game.
“If it wasn’t for Tuukka, it would have been a lot worse,” Kelly said. “I think to a guy in there, we knew we had to go out and be better.”
They were better, but given how dangerous this Blackhawks team can be, the Bruins know that when the series resumes Monday night, they can’t afford to skip the first period again. They’ll still have Rask, but leaning on him that hard with the stakes so high is hardly a recipe for continued success.
But for now, it’s all tied up: Blackhawks 1, Rask 1.