BOSTON (CBS) — Considering the sensational regular season he produced and the spectacular first-round playoff series he just completed against the Detroit Red Wings, it has been a long time since Tuukka Rask has had reason to trash himself.
Of course, it’s arguable whether he deserved a tongue lashing from himself or anyone after the Bruins lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference second-round series to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-3, in double overtime Thursday night at TD Garden.
Rask could’ve skipped commenting or heaped blame on the team in front of him that landed 51 shots on his counterpart Carey Price and attempted 98 shots total but scored just three goals. Or he could’ve blamed defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who moments after committing a turnover that led to a scoring chance took a penalty in front of the net, which sent the Canadiens on the power play. Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban ended the game with his second power-play goal at 4:17 of the extra session.
But Rask decided to look in the mirror for the goat in this game, despite his 29 saves on 33 shots.
“I don’t know. We played overall good 5-on-5, pretty much dominated. Had a lot of chances, couldn’t score,” said Rask, who had a .930 save percentage and 2.04 goals-against average this season. “But I was [crap] today. I’ve got to be better.”
Coach Claude Julien was asked about his self-hating goaltender, and the bench boss refused to point his finger at the Finn. Julien stuck to the party line about winning as a team and losing as a team and not singling anyone out for blame. And in Rask’s case, Julien was dead-on.
There have been nights when Rask willingly wore the goat horns, when he was right about a stinker he pitched on the ice. On this night, Rask was at least a couple of rungs down from the top of the list of players to blame. If calling himself out in the media is what he needs to pump himself back up for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon, though, he should find as many four-letter words as he can to describe his play.
The Bruins will need Rask, who allowed six goals in five games to Detroit, to be a little bit better in order to get back into this series and ultimately prevail in the best-of-seven. But no one was calling for backup Chad Johnson when Rask made an in-tight save on Rene Bourque early in the game or when Rask stopped a wicked wrister from Lars Eller on the rush in the first overtime. Obviously Rask wasn’t Swiss cheese out there. He stopped 29 shots from going in the net. At the other end, Price was a puck magnet. For at least half the game, though, the Bruins were just giving Price a warmup. There shots were rarely from dangerous areas.
Even as their game picked up and the Bruins started to get Price moving, they still seemed content at times to just hammer pucks at the Canadiens’ legs. Maybe it would send the fans into a frenzy to see Canadiens players skating off with broken feet, but nothing would’ve topped the ecstasy of actually cashing in on some of the chances when it looked like the Canadiens were daring Price to blink.
Forward Reilly Smith, who scored one of the Bruins’ goals, pumped out 11 shot attempts and center David Krejci finished with seven. Five of Krejci’s shots actually tested Price, including two opportunities where it was just him and the goalie. Both ended in disgust.
The disgust Rask was feeling after the game isn’t likely to linger. He’s known for not letting much faze him; the type of guy who burns his toast in the morning and just throws a couple of more pieces in (even though he definitely drops an f-bomb or two).
It’s the Canadiens’ fans and a majority of their players who speak French, but Rask is one whose motto is c’est la vie.
“Well, you suck, you suck. That’s it,” Rask said. “What can I say? It’s playoffs.”
Rask definitely doesn’t suck. Ten million Vezina Trophy voters can’t be wrong. He’s a finalist for the award as the best goaltender, he’s been the best goaltender for a couple of seasons now and you know the Bruins can always count on him.
He’s also a rarity for a goalie – he’s a player willing to take the blame and rarely, if ever, excoriates his teammates. That’s why they love him and a major reason why they’ll try to do better for him in Game 2.
In this long series, Rask will probably make everyone forget anything he said or did in Game 1. The only four-letter word you’ll associate with him will be save.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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