By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Goaltender. There may be no job in sports that’s more difficult to maintain consistent performance. One need look no further than Frederik Andersen for the perfect illustration of the extreme swings that can happen from one night to the next.
In Game 2, the 28-year-old Andersen was the goat (not the GOAT), when he allowed three goals on just five shots. He had to make the skate of shame to the Toronto bench, replaced by backup Curtis McElhinney, as the sold-out Boston crowd derisively chanted his name for the second consecutive night.
On Monday in Game 3, Andersen appeared to be in for another dreadful night. He had no idea that a Zdeno Chara one-timer was under his pad early on, kicking out the puck while looking over his shoulder in a panic. He let an unobstructed point shot from Adam McQuaid trickle through his pads to allow the Bruins to tie the game at one goal apiece early in the second period. And shortly after Patrick Marleau put the Maple Leafs up 2-1, Andersen invited Chara to try to pick a corner; the Bruins captain did just that.
Had Andersen allowed one more goal, the entire complexion of the game — and the series — would have been shaped. And it wouldn’t have been good for him or his Leafs.
But instead of collapsing, Andersen put forth a Herculean effort, doing everything that could have been expected of him — and more — in stopping the Bruins’ final 28 shots on net to end a personal five-game playoff losing streak and more importantly to cut Boston’s series lead to 2-1.
Andersen’s most spectacular save, of course, was one of his final saves of the night. It was of the desperation variety with Boston’s net empty, after David Krejci delivered a picture-perfect diagonal slap pass to an uncovered David Pastrnak at the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Pastrnak gathered the pass before sizing up a shot at the open net, knowing he had time and didn’t need to rush a one-timer. Or so he believed.
Andersen swiveled from his knees and reached out his goal stick as best as he could. Because this was Andersen’s night, he caught the puck square on his blade as it hovered over the goal line. He deflected it out of mid-air to squash Boston’s final real threat.
That wasn’t the only moment of frustration for Pastrnak, who was coming off a record-setting six-point night that included a hat trick. The 21-year-old did everything he could in order to keep that success rolling, but it was either Andersen or his iron friends that were there to deny Pastrnak time and time again.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Pastrnak walked in on a power play, all alone on Andersen, but was stoned after deking to the forehand:
That opportunity just seconds after Pastrnak nearly demolished the post with a one-timer from the left wing, encapsulating what was a brutal night for the Bruins’ young star — and that’s without documenting the number of hits he absorbed as the Leafs did their best to bother him every time he stepped on the ice.
Getting back to Andersen, the Dane spared the hockey world from witnessing a confusing and potentially complex case of goaltender interference by managing to scootch along his keister to emerge from his own net to make a ridiculous save on Krejci early in the second period, when the Leafs were leading 1-0:
It was a full-on street hockey type of effort from Andersen, but it worked.
Of course, like any goalie on a 40-save night, Andersen did benefit from some good fortune. He had no chance of stopping a would-be one-time tap-in for Krejci late in the second period off a brilliant feed from Jake DeBrusk, but Krejci flubbed the shot:
The aforementioned assist from his post helped on Pastrnak’s power-play bid, and the post also came up with a stop on a Danton Heinen bid early in the second period. Andersen was also caught in a vulnerable position midway through the third, but Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey got their sticks in the way of Patrice Bergeron burying the puck in an empty net from five feet out.
So, yes, an inch here or an inch there, and there’s probably not too much praise for Andersen being offered after Game 3. But we can only work with what actually happened, and not what could have happened. And what happened was Andersen turning in the second-highest regulation save total of his playoff career, at the perfect time for the Leafs.
None of this is to say that the Bruins didn’t get good goaltending from their own netminder. Tuukka Rask made an incredible save on a one-time bomb from Andreas Johnsson, getting plenty of glove on the shot while bursting from right to left. Rask turned away Kasperi Kapanen on a partial breakaway to preserve a 0-0 tie late in the first, stopped a Grade A opportunity from Tomas Plekanec in the opening minutes of the second, and raised his shoulder to deflect a tricky backhand bid from Tyler Bozak midway through the third. Rask was good, but the Bruins were a bit lax in their efforts to prevent odd-man rushes. Rask could only stop so many. Throw in a world-class snipe from Auston Matthews, and the Leafs were just able to finish their chances better than the Bruins. It was a role reversal from the first two games of the series.
Just one game after Mike Babcock had to pull the plug early on Andersen, the Maple Leafs have to feel great about their goaltender. The Bruins have to hope they never see that version of Andersen again. That Andersen looks capable of being the difference maker in the series.