By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask had a bad game on Saturday night. He made a couple of shorthanded goofs. The Bruins lost, and the foolish/toxic/shortsighted/panicked/ignorant conversation that always infiltrates the Boston sports scene game roaring back: Can Tuukka handle THE BIG GAME™? Should Bruce Cassidy play Jaroslav Halak in the playoffs?
Then Rask went ahead and showed up on the road to shut out the hottest team in the NHL, earning his fifth shutout of the season and 50th shutout of his career, while continuing a season where he’s been the best goalie in the world.
“Oh, is it? Nice,” Rask said when told Tuesday night that he had recorded his 50th career shutout. “It’s a great milestone. I didn’t even realize, but thanks for telling me. But I’ve been around for many years. I guess it’s one of those things where you play enough games, these milestones happen. And it’s definitely a good one.”
The Flyers entered Tuesday night having won nine straight games and 19 of their previous 25 games. They averaged more than four goals per game in the 14 games leading up to Tuesday, but Rask stopped all 36 of their shots en route to a 2-0 Bruins victory.
Rask now ranks tied for fifth (with Halak) among active netminders with 50 career shutouts, and he’s tied for 30th on the all-time list. As far as this current season goes, Rask is tied for second in shutouts, one behind Connor Hellbuyck.
That is but one statistic, yet in the story of Rask’s 2019-20 season, there are many more. Even with some bad nights on his resume, Rask maintains a significant gap over the second-best goalie in a number of key areas. Maintaining those margins despite some off nights shows just how dominant Rask has been on the nights that he’s on.
SAVE PERCENTAGE, 2019-20 (Min. 40 starts)
1. Tuukka Rask, .929
2. Connor Hellebuyck, .921
3. Ben Bishop, .920
4. Jacob Markstrom, .918
5. Andrei Vasilevskiy, .917
GOALS-AGAINST AVERAGE, 2019-20 (Min. 40 starts)
1. Tuukka Rask, 2.12
2. Carter Hart, 2.42
3. Ben Bishop, 2.50
4. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 2.56
5. Jordan Binnington, 2.56
EVEN-STRENGTH SAVE PERCENTAGE, 2019-20 (Min. 40 starts)
1. Tuukka Rask, .939
2. Connor Hellebuyck, .926
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, .925
4. Jacob Markstrom, .925
5. Ben Bishop, .924
HIGH-DANGER SAVE PERCENTAGE, 2019-20 (Min. 40 starts)
1. Tuukka Rask, .876
2. Mackenzie Blackwood, .870
3. Jordan Binnington, .865
4. Ben Bishop, .847
5. Andrei Vasilevskiy, .844
PERCENTAGE OF GAMES STARTED WITH SAVE % BETTER THAN .900, 2019-20 (Min. 40 starts)
1. Tuukka Rask, 73.2
2. Ben Bishop, 69.8
3. Jordan Binnington, 68.0
4. Connor Hellbuyck, 67.3
5. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 65.4
Rask is not pacing the NHL in power-play save percentage. He’s all the way back in second place in that category.
POWER-PLAY SAVE PERCENTAGE, 2019-20 (Min. 40 starts)
1. Martin Jones, .918
2. Tuukka Rask, .886
3. Ben Bishop, .886
4. David Rittich, .882
5. Carey Price, .877
Put it all together, and it’s been a bit of a renaissance season for Rask. Sure, he owns the best save percentage and GAA in the NHL since he became the Bruins’ full-time starter in 2013. But since winning the Vezina in 2014, he’s received Vezina votes in just one of the five seasons that followed. That will change this year, as Rask should (must?) be considered the front-runner to take home the hardware.
“Yeah, he was excellent,” Bruce Cassidy said after Rask’s 36-save shutout in Philadelphia on Tuesday. “He didn’t have his best against Tampa. We expect him to bounce back fairly quickly. He usually does. So, not surprised at all tonight that he gave us a solid effort and a big reason why we won.”
Of course, the aforementioned foolish conversation about THE BIG GAME™ will persist, for one cannot be deemed a championship-caliber goaltender in Boston until he records a shutout in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Then and only then is a goaltender deemed capable of winning THE BIG GAME™.
You’d have to, obviously, forget Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final (28 saves on 29 shots, on the road, facing elimination, with the Cup in the building) vs. St. Louis, and the .937 road save percentage in the Cup Final, and the absurd eight-game playoff winning streak (with a .956 save percentage and 1.38 GAA) that got the Bruins to the Final, and the .947 save percentage in Games 6 and 7 to avoid elimination vs. Toronto in the first round. And you’d have to discard the historic 2013 playoff run as ancient history, and you’d have to disregard his spot with the seventh-best playoff save percentage of all time (on top of having the third-best save percentage of all time). You would instead have to focus only on the slip-ups, even though every winning goalie has them, and insist that those blips tell the whole story, rather than the much larger sampling. (Patrick Roy had an .882 save percentage, a 3.64 GAA, and a 7-6 record in the ’87 and ’88 playoffs combined; perhaps he was afraid of The Big Game!)
You’d also have to accept that requiring a goaltender to win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in order to be considered reliable is perhaps the most absurd standard to ever be applied to any situation. Goalies have won Cups 14 times since the lockout, yet only three times has a goaltender needed to win Game 7 of the Final to secure it.
Alas. The conversation will continue. It always does. In the meanwhile, the march toward a second Vezina and the cap on one of the better goaltending decades in history will likewise roll on.