By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask is one of the best playoff goaltenders of all time. No, really — he is! Look it up in a book.
Despite the surrounding narrative on him, he’s been nails in the playoffs for the bulk of his career. So it’s worth noting that Sunday night capped off one of his best first-round playoff performances to date.
Dating back to 2010, Rask has played in seven first-round playoff series. The Bruins are 7-1 in those series, and 6-1 in those series when Rask didn’t have to leave the COVID bubble. He is 27-18 in the first round.
Tuukka Rask backstopped the @NHLBruins into the Second Round. He is one of four active goaltenders with at least 10 series-clinching wins. #StanleyCup #NHLStats: https://t.co/WXhhsi5i0p pic.twitter.com/WvA3gN5CL8
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 24, 2021
And at 34 years old, with a number of questions surrounding him entering the postseason, Rask turned in the second-best opening round performance of his career.
Against Washington — a team that ranked third in the NHL with 3.4 goals per game — Rask posted a .941 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average. The Capitals scored just 10 goals all series, and all but three of them were deflected or redirected on their way in. Rask was as close to unbeatable as it gets in an NHL playoff scenario.
After going 1-0-2 with a .905 save percentage and a 2.59 GAA in the regular season vs. Washington, Rask very clearly elevated his game for this series.
The only first-round performance better than this one involved a series where the Bruins also lost Game 1 before rattling off four straight wins. That was in 2014, when the Detroit Red Wings won Game 1 by a 1-0 score in Boston, on the strength of some wizardry by Pavel Datsyuk. Rask stopped 123 of 128 shots the rest of the way, posting a silly .961 save percentage for the series with a 1.16 GAA.
The major positive for Rask and the Bruins is that he can still have a similarly dominant performance at 34 years old. (The fact that Rask then posted just a .903 save percentage and 2.58 in a second-round loss to Montreal in 2014 might be discouraging. But the Bruins won’t have to worry about the formerly pesky Canadiens this time around.)
(One more parenthetical here, if you don’t mind: Rask unofficially threw three more punches in this series than he did vs. Detroit in 2014. That might tip the scales in favor of this one. Just something to think about.)
Of course, not all saves are created equal, and Washington’s total of 41 shots in a losing effort in Game 5 was largely window dressing for a moderately interested effort from the home team. Evgeny Kuznetsov sending a harmless wrister on net from 40 feet instead of trying to beat the D to create an actual scoring opportunity in the second period of a 1-0 game perhaps captured that best.
But the Capitals did have some quality opportunities — some that he saw before they happened:
Tuukka Rask with a monster stop on Conor Sheary: pic.twitter.com/lICUF7Zmf2
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 23, 2021
Some that he saw through traffic:
The patented armpit save from Tuukka Rask: pic.twitter.com/RiYLF7eyad
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 24, 2021
And some that he made look easy, because that tends to be his style. He gave the Capitals very little room to shoot, and the results speak for themselves.
In Boston, surely most people appreciate what they’re seeing from Rask. Others will always discount his performances until or if he wins a Stanley Cup, as if such things can be won by a goaltender alone.
Yet for anyone who might have questioned his commitment level or doubted his stomach for playoff hockey or sent forth any other absurd notions into the hockey universe, it’s worth a reminder to note that people who aren’t fully invested cannot absolutely dominate a playoff series the way that Rask just did for Boston.
Let’s hit some more thoughts, after the Bruins executed the gentleman’s sweep over the Capitals.
–Charlie McAvoy. That’s it. That’s all there is to say. While the Bruins could have used the steady defense of Zdeno Chara on the left side this year, there is absolutely no doubt that McAvoy seized the opportunity to become the team’s No. 1 D-man in the big man’s absence. And if losing Chara was the price to pay to open up that opportunity for McAvoy, then it’d be hard to argue that the Bruins didn’t make the right call.
The 23-year-old (HOW IS HE ONLY 23?) was, quite simply, a monster in this series. He was everywhere, and he did everything. I suppose there are stats that might indicate this to be true, but honestly, who cares? Watch the man. He covers every inch of the 200-by-85-foot surface with speed, with confidence, with power, with impact.
If you do want a good stat, just look at time on ice. McAvoy skated 136:15 in the series, more than anybody on either team and 22:12 more than anyone else on the Bruins.
Another stat: He assisted on five power-play goals. The fact that the Bruins only scored five power-play goals speaks to the significance of that number.
And this isn’t a stat, but OOF!
Charlie McAvoy with a big hit on Tom Wilson: pic.twitter.com/pCkxWWcjll
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 23, 2021
McAvoy on Wilson pic.twitter.com/62LwGzwTce
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) May 23, 2021
That is 428 pounds of human colliding at full speed. Ouch. It’s also a clean and fair way to respond to some polite taunting from Game 3.
Garnet Hathaway with a big hit on Charlie McAvoy. Tom Wilson has a few words from the bench. pic.twitter.com/RXxOIWRC8K
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 19, 2021
Charlie McAvoy. He’s been good. Everybody knows that. In this series though, he was on another level.
–I brought back the Craig Anderson Scale Of Goalie Blame last week, and frankly, it’s sweeping the nation. Or, nobody really noticed. In any event, in the interest of completing a task, I graded the goals allowed by Rask in Games 4 and 5 to finish this round and perhaps put the Craig Anderson Goalie Blame Scale back in mothballs for the next seven years or so.
In Game 4, the only puck that got past Rask came on a broken-stick one-timer by Alex Ovechkin on the power play, a puck that bounced off Brandon Carlo’s skate. That’s a 0 out of 5.
In Game 5, Rask made a high-danger save on Conor Sheary but had trouble locating the rebound before Sheary roofed it over his shoulder. Realistically, this is a 0 out of 5, but because that’s boring, we’ll throw a 1 on it. (If you’re unfamiliar with this scale, then HOW DARE YOU. But a 5 out of 5 means an AHL goalie would have saved it, a 0 out of 5 means nobody could have realistically saved it, and a 1 out of 5 means a goalie playing at a Vezina level would have saved it. A 3 out of 5 means Craig Anderson — Mr. Average Goalie — would have saved it. Hence the name. You see? You see.)
So if you add up all 10 Washington goals and apply the Craig Anderson Scale, Rask got a 1.1 out of 5. Outside of a weird one in OT of Game 1 that spun down his chest and through his legs after a downward redirect in the slot, Rask didn’t allow anything that could even be debated as a bad goal. Heck of a series.
–Ilya Samsonov, on the other hand … not so much. He was immense in the first period, but he got worked by David Pastrnak on that ridiculous video-game goal. (To be fair, everyone wearing red got worked by Pastrnak in that sequence.) The Patrice Bergeron goal came on a nice shot, sure, but an NHL goaltender has to save a 45-foot snap shot with nobody obstructing his vision.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 24, 2021
There wasn’t much Samsonov could do on the third goal, after a ghastly T.J. Oshie turnover and a perfect Pastrnak screen. Still, the Capitals’ lack of a solid goaltending situation really doomed them from ever having a chance in this series.
–Do you know who needs a little pub after Game 5? Curtis Lazar. Fourth-liners don’t live for the glory, sure, but did you see him win that foot race with Nicklas Backstrom to negate an icing in the final minutes, with his only reward being a mouthful of dasher on the end boards after Backstrom delivered a pretty good hit? That looked like it was lousy, if we’re being honest.
Lazar, uh … endured some physical pain in this series:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 18, 2021
But he also escaped Buffalo and is now in the second round of the playoffs. That’s a toll worth paying.
–Let’s not lose sight of the fact that not long ago, the Capitals franchise had a majority ownership stake in the Boston Bruins. When the Capitals were on the schedule, the Bruins might as well have stayed home. For a long time. And that includes the goaltender.
Rask had never even won a game in Washington for a very long time, but he slayed that demon with a 24-save shutout in February 2019. Now he can add a pair of playoff victories in Washington to his resume.
As a team, the Capitals had a stretch from 2014-19 where they simply did not lose to the Bruins. The streak got up to 14 games for the Capitals over the Bruins. It was a bit of a nightmare.
So while that roadblock may have already been addressed in recent years, a playoff series win like this one turns it all into ancient history.