Bruins

B’s Would Be Average Team Without Tuukka Rask And Other Leftover Thoughts

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Tuukka Rask (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tuukka Rask (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — “Massive” does not even begin to describe the swing that was guaranteed to happen after an overtime goal in Thursday night’s Game 4 between the Bruins and Red Wings.

If the Bruins were to be the ones scoring the goal, it would turn Saturday’s Game 5 into a clinching scenario, and summer plans and golf outings would start creeping into the minds of the Red Wings.

If the Red Wings were the ones scoring the goal, we’d all be looking at a 2-2 series tie and a very real possibility that this one is going seven games.

And of course, that goal was almost certainly going to be an ugly one, a deflected shot through a screen that somehow pinballs its way to the twine.

It’s not always fair, but the Bruins are certainly happy they had the good fortune in Game 4.

The goal came more than 13 minutes into overtime, capping off a stretch where the Bruins picked themselves up from a 2-0 hole and dominated the majority of the final 35 or so minutes of the game. As a result, the Bruins know they can end this thing on home ice on Saturday, while the Red Wings have to feel deflated after their very best effort was not enough to win this game.

Playoff hockey. She is a cruel mistress.

Now it’s time for some leftover thoughts.

–Carl Soderberg played like he is 10 feet tall. He literally did everything in this game. He was like a taller, stronger, faster Patrice Bergeron, and he was everywhere. He was setting up Milan Lucic for the game-tying goal early in the third period, he was dropping to one knee to poke check Gus Nyquist in the neutral zone in overtime, and he was routinely sending beautiful passes to linemates Justin Florek and Loui Eriksson, who, for various reasons, were unable to bury them.

The assist on the Lucic goal was truly a picture of perfection. After chasing down the puck in the corner, Soderberg carried the puck toward the back of the Detroit net. He deftly flicked a backhand feed to the goalmouth, where Lucic scored a goal that made the 20,000 fans in attendance go completely silent. The incredible part of the pass is that Soderberg fit the puck between Jonas Gustavsson’s stick and the post, a window that might have been 1 mm wider than a puck. Watch the GIF from Bruins GIF machine Pete Blackburn here, and you might end up watching it over and over and over again. He essentially made a mini-golf putt through the windmill blades while skating in an NHL game at full speed. Backhanded.

Outstanding night overall for Soderberg, and it made you think if perhaps his playoff run in Sweden hadn’t gone so long last year, and if he could have gotten settled in to the NHL game sooner, then perhaps this Bruins postseason would be a Stanley Cup defense. He’s just looked that good.

–Dougie Hamilton also made an incredible pass of his own on that Lucic goal. From behind the Boston net, Hamilton head faked Nyquist to gain space to carry the puck to the front of the net. He then looked up and saw Lucic on the left wing. Hamilton showed remarkably soft hands to float the gentlest of touch passes to guide Lucic to the neutral zone at full speed. Lucic then led Soderberg deep into the Detroit zone, and the rest is history.

From behind one net to behind the other, and that right there is the recipe for a 200-foot goal.

–Brad Marchand. Come on, man. Come on. Missing one empty net is almost understandable. It’s definitely forgivable. But missing two wide open nets? That can’t happen.

Yet it did. Given the embellishment debate that Marchand spurred in Game 3, and given his “come at me, bro” type of response, you know he wanted nothing more than to score in Game 4. But I believe his burning desire to score that goal and probably pull off some foolish goal celebration, like his “monkey off the back” nonsense from earlier this season, might have distracted him from … you know … actually scoring the goal.

It didn’t cost the Bruins in this one, but there’s rarely that much room for error in a playoff game.

–Kevan Miller and Torey Krug have to be pretty bummed that their beautiful set-ups won’t get noticed on any highlight reels, too. Those passes to Marchand were tremendous.

–We now enter the Tuukka Rask portion of the story. I might start copying and pasting this for every game of the playoffs: “Tuukka played great. He kept them in the game when the rest of the team was standing still and watching the puck. He made two or three ridiculous saves and he made the other 28 or so look easy, even though most weren’t. If it weren’t for him, the Bruins would be an average hockey team. Yada, yada, yada.”

That ought to save me some time, especially if Rask leads the Bruins on another long postseason run.

–I do now actually believe that the Bruins would be average without Rask. He no doubt benefits from both playing in Claude Julien’s defensive system as well as playing behind guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. But I think all too often, Rask makes a handful of saves in tight games like this one, saves that at least 95 percent of the league’s goaltenders don’t make as regularly, and it’s a major reason why the Bruins win.

Take this game for instance. A 2-0 hole is hard enough to climb out of, but if one more sneaks through and it’s 3-0, or if Rask lets in a goal after the Bruins tied it at 2-2, then it’s almost certainly a loss.

That’s been the case for the entire season. Every single time Rask is less than great, the Bruins lose. He allowed three or more goals 20 times this year, and the Bruins went 4-14-2. When Rask’s not great, neither are the Bruins.

I don’t get the impression that anyone in the Bruins dressing room takes his presence for granted, and it’s no knock on any of their skill or desire to say they would not be a top-of-the-conference team without such excellence in their crease.

–Rask stood on his head, obviously, in the first period, when the Red Wings peppered him with 15 shots on net. The Bruins in that time attempted just 14 shots, with only five of them making it on net. Rask allowed a screened Niklas Kronwall blast from the point and essentially a tap-in by Pavel Datsyuk  to get past him, and that was it. He stoned Justin Abdelkader in the opening minute of overtime, a play that developed so quickly that he said he didn’t even know which player was skating in on him.

He made a save, I think, with the bottom of his thigh:

He robbed Tomas Tatar with this nifty glove save:

He saw through human bodies to keep the game alive in the final minutes of regulation:

He was outstanding. It’s becoming routine.

–Tuukka’s stats, by the way, through these four games: 3-1, 0.96 GAA, .966 save percentage.

–At one point in overtime, Justin Florek battled in front of the net after getting his helmet knocked off. If you’re a young player and you want to endear yourself to the Boston fan base, that’s a pretty solid way to do it. (Destroying Mike Komimsarek in a fist fight is a tried and true method, as well.)

–In the early minutes of the second period, as well as in overtime, I noticed there were hundreds of empty seats down low. Does Detroit have one of those super exclusive clubs like the Miami Heat have? Or are beer lines just really long? I’m going to venture a guess that it’s the latter.

–This was the very worst moment of Tomas Tatar’s life:

–I like the NESN broadcast, and I like the hometown guys getting a game, but Andy Brickley nearly blew a gasket over the “bad call” on Kevan Miller for roughing Justin Abdelkader behind the Boston net. This was a play where Miller lost his stick and then decided to completely maul Abdelkader 100 feet behind the play. This is against the rules and you cannot do it. Fairly simple. Based on everything I saw on Twitter, the masses were all up in arms about it too.

Come on, people. You can’t wrestle and then punch opponents to the ground when they’re trying to play hockey. There are rules in this sport. Save your complaints for the many moments when you really have a case. Be better than The Gap.

–I didn’t like the double minor call on Florek for high sticking Drew Miller. I saw no blood. This is the playoffs. If you’re going to assign a double minor in the postseason, it better look like an old Gushers commercial.

–The Red Wings scored 4 seconds into that power play. The Bruins scored 11 seconds into their power play later in the game. Both goals were scored from almost the same exact spot on the ice — the first from Kronwall, the second from Krug. I’ll have to put in a call to the Elias Sports Bureau to ask if it’s the first time two different D-men on two different teams scored essentially the same goal on the first 11 seconds of a power play on the same night. I think it might have happened in 1947, if I recall correctly.

–Henrik Zetterberg is an outstanding player, but he unsurprisingly had almost no legs whatsoever in this one. If he could have been operating even at three-quarter speed, he could have really had an impact, but he just had no burst and looked to be struggling to get going.

–Todd Bertuzzi, on the other hand, was a new addition to the Detroit lineup who made a real impact. He screened Rask perfectly on that Kronwall goal, and he set up camp in front of Rask during Detroit’s power plays. At one point, Kevan Miller — who is ripped out of his mind — tried with all his might to relocate the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Bertuzzi. He did not budge. The 39-year-old can still bring it.

–Right after that Miller/Bertuzzi moment though, Johnny Boychuk came over and just absolutely planted Bertuzzi. Nobody said the guy was agile.

–The Bruins had no idea that they’d be facing Jonas Gustavsson in net, because there was no sign that Jimmy Howard wouldn’t be playing until the game started. Now that they might spend some time in the next two days studying Gustavsson and his weaknesses, Jonas better hope that Jimmy gets well soon. I’d hate to be in his position, on the road, in a crazy environment, with the whole season on his shoulders.

–I don’t have any questions to Red Wings fans about their penchant for tossing an octopus onto the ice from time to time. I have much more curiosity regarding their habit of collectively singing “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit in the third periods of playoff games.

Just … what the heck?

I’m sorry to use foul language, but it needed to be addressed.

–As everyone knows, Saturday afternoon will be a clinching possibility for the Bruins, who no doubt want to end this thing and not get sucked into a seven-game series where they might need several miracles to complete a miraculous comeback on home ice to advance. They should get it done at the Garden on Saturday, but until then, let’s all stop and admire the Marchand sniper pose:

Brad Marchand (Screen shot from NHL.com)

Brad Marchand (Screen shot from NHL.com)

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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