By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Blues entered the Stanley Cup Final knowing that they’d be facing the hottest goaltender on the planet. If they had to tiptoe on the periphery of what’s deemed acceptable behavior in order to take him off his game, then, well, all’s fair in love and playoff hockey. Resorting to bullying attempts and physical onslaughts may not technically be considered decent behavior, but if it led to lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, it would all be washed away in history.
That is to say, the hockey world would forever remember the St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup in 2019 and would not long remember the tactics used to get there.
But, trouble is for the Blues … it’s not working. Whether it’s high-speed drives through his chest or leaping hip-checks to the head or pushes in scrums or (the most embarrassing display yet) a face-to-face showdown after a whistle, Tuukka Rask remains completely unfazed by every single thing the Blues throw at him. As a result, he’s making the Blues look foolish.
Through three games, it’s beyond clear that running Rask out of his crease has been a directive of Blues forwards. Sammy Blais bulldozed Rask early in Game 2, with Jaden Schwartz later skating directly to the net without the puck and finishing with a hit on Rask. Both drew goaltender interference penalties. In Game 3 on Saturday night, it was David Perron’s and — chuckle — Jordan Binnington’s turn to try to climb inside Rask’s mask.
Perron, who for the second time in three games was given carte blanche to Greco-Roman wrestle a Bruins player 150 feet behind the play with no penalty being called (it was Charlie McAvoy this time), ran over Rask in the second period, knocking the net off its moorings. Perron then decided to try to get in Rask’s face, which is something you just don’t often see.
Such a moment could potentially rattle a young netminder in a big moment. But the 32-year-old Rask, making his 85th postseason start, simply chuckled directly in Perron’s mug.
Give that round to Tuukka.
After the game — during which Rask stopped every shot that wasn’t deflected past him by a teammate — Rask played it cool as a cucumber when asked about the tactics.
“He was just saying I was diving,” Rask nonchalantly relayed. “I told him I wasn’t.”
Perron later needlessly grabbed Rask while engaged in a scrum in Boston’s crease in the third period. The referees, aware of what Perron was up to, sent him to the penalty box for roughing. The unnecessary penalty negated what would have been a power play for St. Louis.
“It wasn’t too bad,” said Rask after Game 3. “I think Perron a couple of times, he was in tight there in the scrums. But nothing out of the ordinary.”
That was right in line with how Rask reacted to the two goaltender interference penalties assessed in Game 2, with Rask saying he “expected” such things but wasn’t bothered by them — especially because the referees enforced the rules.
And in what was an even more laughable attempt to disrupt Rask, Blues netminder Jordan Binnington bumped into Rask as the two goalies skated to their respective benches during a TV timeout in the second period. Binnington looked directly at Rask and then extended his elbow jut enough to get a piece of Rask — nothing violent whatsoever, but clearly another attempt to rattle Rask’s cage.
Binnington would end up getting yanked about four minutes later, having allowed five goals on 19 shots. After the loss, Binnington admitted that the bump was born out of frustration.
“Uh, you know, 4-0 game, I wasn’t’ happy, and, just, you know, that’s how I reacted,” the rookie Binnington said. “And, you know, it’s a long series, right? So, just something I did, and we’re moving on.”
OK, man. Lying about it and saying it was accidental probably would have looked better in that instance.
Thus far, the Blues have gotten pucks past Rask seven times on 86 shots. One goal came on a third-chance opportunity, one came on a deflection off Matt Grzelcyk’s knee, one came with 6-foot-3 Alex Pietrangelo firmly planted in front of Rask’s face, one came on a deflection off McAvoy’s skate, and one came on a deflection off Brandon Carlo. Rask has been beaten cleanly twice — once by Brayden Schenn, once by Vladimir Tarasenko — but both came off defensive breakdowns.
Long story short: It’s extremely difficult for the Blues to beat Rask. Naturally, they’re resorting to some questionable methods to try to change that. It’s not working … and frankly, the failure in that quest is starting to look slightly embarrassing.
With that, let’s barrel through some rapid-fire leftover thoughts from the Bruins’ 7-2 win in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
–Speaking of goaltenders, it would be easy to say that perhaps the Blues have themselves a goaltending problem, after Binnington posted grisly numbers and got pulled in Game 3. But, realistically, it’s hard to fault Binnington too much, despite the results.
Patrice Bergeron’s tip was the result of poor PK coverage, Charlie Coyle’s goal was a difficult one to stop on a 3-on-2, and Torey Krug’s goal deflected off Jay Bouwmeester’s stick. Stopping any one of those shots would have required a master stroke of talent, anticipation, sorcery, and luck.
The other two goals were questionable. Yes, David Pastrnak is probably going to score when he has enough time to file his taxes and spread some mayo on a ham sandwich in front of the net, but Binnington wasn’t exactly aggressive in trying to break that up. And Binnington appeared to have just fallen asleep before Sean Kuraly’s goal late in the first.
Binnington can probably recover from that. At the same time, if the rookie allows one or two early goals in Game 4? It could be game over, series over, season over very quickly for the Blues.
–Who could have ever possibly imagined Craig Berube’s team would commit some penalties? Berube, who ranks seventh all time in NHL history with 3,149 penalty minutes in his 1,049-game career, watched from the bench as Perron needlessly hauled Carlo down to the ice for an interference minor in the first. (The Bruins popped the first goal of the game on the PP just 21 seconds later.) He watched as Perron swiped at Rask to negate a Blues power play when the Blues technically could have gotten back in the game. Things like that might get washed out when there’s a 7-2 final, but that’s just bad hockey. In June, you’re pretty much asking for disaster when you dabble in such areas.
–Where were YOU when a replay review went the Bruins’ way? Mark that one down and keep the puck. Decisions like that don’t happen often.
–I threw around the “Best Team In Hockey” tag after a 6-2 win in Game 2 against Carolina, and you can bet that it’s back out after this one. This game was a display of what happens when damn near everything the Bruins have comes together: Depth scoring from the third and fourth lines as well as a goal from the D-men, power-play production from the top-end guys, great goaltending, sound defensive work in both ends, and a toughness that shines through in perseverance and the ability to withstand heavy, thumping play from the opponent.
The Bruins are not a beat-you-up-and-take-your-lunch-money kind of team, a reputation they earned over many, many decades. There is no Milan Lucic here, and there is no Shawn Thornton or Adam McQuaid. But don’t let that fool you. This team is tough. That, as much as the goal-scoring and goaltending, was extremely evident on Saturday night.
–Tuukka Rask is your obvious leader in the clubhouse for the Conne Smythe Trophy, both because of his own play and because the offensive contributions are so spread out.
Brad Marchand is a point-per-game player, with 8-12-20 totals in 20 games, but he hasn’t really been the driver of Boston’s success. Pastrnak has 17 points (8-9-17), but he’s gone on extended cold streaks that have forced the Bruins to look elsewhere for offense. Bergeron’s at 16 points, but again, his line has gone missing to start series multiple times this postseason.
Krug, with two goals and 14 assists for 16 points in 20 games, has been an MVP candidate for sure. But two goals from a D-man who’s not considered a shutdown guy wouldn’t get that done. Charlie Coyle (8-7-15) and David Krejci (4-10-14) have been important, as has Marcus Johansson (4-7-11), but, again, those aren’t MVP numbers.
It’s really remarkable, looking at the stats thus far. Nineteen different Bruins have scored, as we all know, but 13 different Bruins have seven points or more. Sean Kuraly has four goals and five assists, while Joakim Nordstrom has 3-5-8 totals and Noel Acciari/Chris Wagner have combined for 4-2-6 totals. Coyle has carried the offense at times in a third-line role. The defensive contributions — from Krug, McAvoy, Grzelcyk and even Connor Clifton — have been immense.
The top-to-bottom contributions have just been a sight to behold.
–That being said, Brandon Carlo has got to score a goal before it’s all said and done. That bench will explode if he does.
–David Pastrnak scored his goal so early in the second period that the rich people with seats in the first few rows weren’t even back from their swanky intermission soiree to witness it.
Shame. Very inconsiderate.
–It is very peculiar that referees in this series aren’t whistling Perron for penalties when he’s doing things like this behind the play:
That one was perhaps not as egregious as the six-round wrestling match with Krug in Game 1 — the tussle which preceded Krug’s iconic hit on Robert Thomas, during which Krug and Perron committed at least three penalties apiece — but the existence of that previous skirmish might have alerted refs to be on the lookout for such activity going forward?
–Ivan Barbashev is probably lucky that he did not connect with his wild swing of the stick at Connor Clifton.
Though, getting a fourth-liner suspended for a second straight perhaps could be traced back to that Berube point from earlier.
–Speaking of suspensions, and the league cracking down on hits to the head and concussions and whatnot … I found it odd that the NHL cut this hit from Sammy Blais and threw it upon YouTube early in Game 3.
The NHL clips a handful of big plays — usually goals or saves, or unique or noteworthy hits — during games, so it’s not altogether out of the ordinary. But considering it was a high hit delivered to the head of an unsuspecting player, it does look a bit odd to see it tossed out there in the wake of Matt Grzelcyk’s concussion just three nights prior.
(Zdeno Chara went to the penalty box for roughing when delivering a similar — but less violent — hit on Carl Gunnarsson later in the game.)
The NHL also cut and promoted this clip — a flying hit attempt by Brayden Schenn that would have even made Raffi Torres blush.
It’s definitely a talking-out-of-both-sides-of-their-mouth situation when it comes to taking player safety seriously and admiring unadulterated violence. I’m not taking a bold stand on either side here … just noting that it’s weird. That is all.
–To anyone who screamed and yelled about a charging call that should have been assessed to Krug in Game 1, I would assume you were saying the same for Schenn’s springboard shot there, too.
–To be fair to the NHL video clipper’s decision, the missed hit did create quite the visual:
–This is when the violence really got out of hand for me.
Criminal behavior right there. Tough to watch.
–John Moore was fine. John Moore’s middle name might be “Fine.” He played 13:09, including nearly four minutes on the PK. (He was on the ice when Parayko’s wide shot bounced off Carlo and into the net, so it wasn’t really his or anyone’s fault.) He stepped up to stifle a 2-on-2 rush led by Robby Fabri late in the first period. He was … fine.
You’re obviously losing a puck-moving dynamic without Grzelcyk. But for as much as Boston scratched its collective head when Don Sweeney signed Moore to a 37-year contract this past offseason (OK, it’s five years), the GM does look pretty smart for having a solid D-man in the stable to step in seamlessly in a Stanley Cup Final game on the road.
–Rask hasn’t lately made the flourishing glove saves, or the flying post-to-post stops on odd-man rushes, or the sprawling desperation-type saves that live on forever. But that’s sort of an indication of how calmly the man has been tending his net.
For example, the only save the NHL deemed worthy of cutting into a highlight was this stop on Tyler Bozak.
Make no mistake — a quick shot from the slot on a power play here is a difficult one to stop. But Rask made a blocker save with such indifference that you could have easily missed it if you were zoning out, thinking about that sweet, sweet Jonas Brothers reunion tour.
–Rask’s rebound control has also been otherworldly. He’s played bigger than he ever has, even when down in the butterfly, and he’s managed to absorb shots like a pillow, always in control and always managing every moment with what looks like relative ease. It sounds overly simple to just say “he’s in a zone and he’s seeing everything,” but, yeah, the fella is in a zone and is seeing everything.
–Do you want to do the Tuukka Rask/Tim Thomas thing again? Sure, why not?!
Tuukka Rask, 2019 Postseason
.939 save percentage
.941 even-strength save percentage
Tim Thomas, 2011 Postseason (Through 20 games)
.930 save percentage
.942 even-strength save percentage
Thomas allowed four goals on 179 shots from there on out (LOL) to cap off a historic goaltending performance. Rask needs to maintain his level of play for just two more wins in order to author something similar or, arguably, better.
–Numbers and historical data are meaningless, yes, BUT …
The winner of Game 3 in a Stanley Cup Final that had been tied 1-1 has ended up winning the series 78.6 percent of the time.
Now, looking ahead to Monday, when the road team has won in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, that team has gone on to win 91.8 percent of the time in all postseason series in history.
Of course, the 2013 Bruins won Game 3 to go up 2-1 over the Blackhawks, and that didn’t do them a lot of good. Likewise, this year’s Bruins lost a pair of Game 3’s to fall behind 2-1, both to Toronto and Columbus. That didn’t prevent Boston from winning the series.
So, yeah, numbers, stats, data … who cares?
Still, if given your druthers, you’d probably choose to be a part of the 92 percentile rather than the group that’s won just 8 percent of the time. That’s the opportunity that awaits the Bruins in Game 4.
–Something that’s really stood out this postseason has been Brad Marchand’s clear attempts to remain as even-keeled as possible, at least when speaking to the media. The whole “never get too high, never get too low” cliche gets repeated ad nauseam in every locker room on earth, but Marchand has really lived by that mantra through this whole playoff run (outside of that time he went Marshawn Lynch on everybody in Columbus). When his line has faced criticism for a lack of production, he’s accepted that he’s needed to play better while fighting back against the notion that his line was not generating any chances. And when things have gone well, Marchand has made sure to never get too caught up in the success.
“That wasn’t the perfect road game. We backed off, we didn’t play great in the second and third. So we can be better,” Marchand said after a 7-2 win on the road in the Stanley Cup Final. “Yeah, we got lucky tonight. We’ll take that one. Hopefully we’re good next game.”
OK, but four power-play goals on four opportunities with just four shots? Have you ever even seen that before, Brad?
“Yeah,” Marchand answered. “We’ve seen it before.”
“We got lucky,” Marchand continued. “Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. We knew we could be better, but that’s just one of those nights where things bounce your way. You can’t expect that to happen every night. We still have areas we can clean up. It’s nice that the power play came together, we were good on special teams. But we gotta follow it up next game.”
The first time Marchand played this deep into a season, he was a 23-year-old rookie on a line with a veteran’s veteran named Mark Recchi. Marchand was still one of the youngest players on the team during the run to the Cup Final in 2013. This time around, though, Marchand is 30, the fifth-oldest regular skater on the team, and he’s clearly taking that role seriously with the way he’s trying to maintain a sense of normalcy throughout the emotional roller coaster that is the NHL postseason.
For a player whose maturity has often (and loudly) been questioned from the outside, that is not an insignificant development — or is it is an unimportant factor in the Bruins’ current position, two wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup.