By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It takes a whole team to win a high-stakes hockey game. But sometimes you need a little extra something from the goaltender in order to pull off the victory.
And on Sunday night in St. Louis, facing elimination in the Stanley Cup Final, the Boston Bruins needed Tuukka Rask to be special. The 32-year-old responded by authoring what should always be known as The Tuukka Rask Game.
Rask, despite historic numbers that have him ranked at or near the top of the list of all-time leaders for both regular season and playoff save percentage, has been knocked for various reasons during his tenure as goalie for the Boston Bruins. While he did hold the No. 1-scoring team to just two goals in an entire playoff series in 2013, that was a postseason that ended in misery. The end overshadowed everything else that had happened to that point.
And though a Game 7 still remains to be played, there can be no mistaking the fact that the Bruins’ season is still alive because a world-class goaltender showed up to the rink on Sunday evening.
The numbers weren’t gaudy — 28 saves — but they don’t speak to the quality of opportunity of each chance from the Blues.
For one, Rask was the Bruins’ best penalty killer throughout the Blues’ four unsuccessful power plays. Of Rask’s 28 saves, 12 came when the Bruins were shorthanded, thus preventing the Blues from capitalizing on any of their opportunities with the man advantage.
The difficulty for Rask started on the Blues’ very first shot on goal of the evening, a doorstep bid from Tyler Bozak just 2:12 into the game. Rask made the save, just as he did with a toe save on a Brayden Schenn shot through traffic two minutes later.
With the Bruins staked to a 1-0 lead on a Brad Marchand power play goal, Rask stopped David Perron from a dangerous scoring area late in the first to preserve that lead. In the final minute of the period, with the Blues on a power play, Rask stopped a slapshot from Colton Parayko to prevent a Zdeno Chara penalty from hurting on the scoreboard.
Before leaving his crease at the end of that period, Rask made sure to give a slight bump to Perron, who tried to rattle Rask’s cage earlier in this series. Though Perron scored the game-winner in Game 5, Rask seemed to let the winger know that he wasn’t going to be beaten on this night.
The challenges kept up in the second, just 20 seconds in, when Rask had to turn aside a Grade A chance from Jaden Schwartz. Rask had to flash the glove later on a fluttering Schenn shot, too.
It was at that point that Rask did need a little help from his friends — first from the post by his side, then by defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
An Alex Pietrangelo shot beat Rask to the blocker side but caught the post clean. The deflection off the post could have been trouble, but McAvoy batted the puck out of mid-air and onto Rask’s back. Rask did just enough to keep that puck out of the net and keeping a zero on the board for St. Louis.
A 1-0 lead on the road while facing elimination is a very tenuous thing. All it takes is one bounce, one flinch, one mistake, and the floodgates can open. Rask’s 19 saves through the first two periods — 12 of which came on the power play — kept that 1-0 lead intact.
It wasn’t until more than 52 minutes had elapsed in the game that a puck beat Rask, who lunged to his right as Ryan O’Reilly’s shot just barely crossed the goal line.
That’s about as much as Rask could be beaten on this night.
Rask finished off his night with 10 saves in that third period, as the Bruins turned a tight 1-0 game into a 5-1 laugher. With a building full of 19,000 fans, in a city full of many more fans flooding the street, against a team full of players who were all on the doorstep of reaching their lifelong goal, Rask made sure that the Blues and the people of St. Louis had no reason to celebrate on Sunday evening.
Not one single puck ever even hit the net. By the end of the night, Rask made 28 saves on 29 shots. His counterpart allowed four goals on 31 shots.
The Bruins needed a world-class showing out of their goaltender. They got it. As a result, they’ll be playing for the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night.
How Rask follows up this performance will go a long way toward cementing the legacy of one of the best goalies in Bruins — and NHL — history.