Following the Bruins' 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Monday night at Air Canada Centre, Rask sat at his locker with sweat dripping from underneath the Massachusetts State Police baseball hat he was wearing backward. He saw plenty of rubber and turned away 45 of 47 shots by the Maple Leafs to help Boston gain a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"He was good and he was solid," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "You need good goaltending in the playoffs, but until the third period it was a pretty good tilt from our end about not giving up that many shots.
"They came out in the third a desperate team, down 4-1, we knew they were going to throw everything at us. We needed good goaltending and tried to minimize the scoring chances and be patient and that early goal, that power-play goal at the beginning of the third certainly gave them some life and they picked up their game from that point."
But Rask was there to backstop the Bruins' victory despite Toronto's late charge.
Even though the Maple Leafs produced 47 shots, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said his team did not do enough in front of Rask and wasn't able to generate many flurries. Other than Toronto's power-play goal 47 seconds into the third period, the Bruins did a solid job of clearing out the bodies and pucks in front of their goaltender.
"He played well and made the stops he needed to," Carlyle said of Rask.
Rask became the true No. 1 goalie for the Bruins this season after Tim Thomas' departure. Boston's goalie succession plan was put into place sooner than the organization planned, but it has worked out well. Rask finished the lockout-shortened, 48-game season with a 19-10-5 record, along with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in 36 games.
Still, questions remained whether he could produce in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He has so far, and Monday's performance was his best yet.
"If you want to go deep into the playoffs, you need your goalie to be outstanding," said Bruins forward David Krejci, who scored an empty-net goal and added two assists in the win. "He's been playing well the last few games, and tonight he made some key saves. We need him just like he needs us to put the puck in the net."
Once the Bruins gained a 1-0 lead on defenseman Adam McQuaid's goal at 13:42 of the first period, Boston gained some momentum and Rask did the rest.
With the Bruins still leading 1-0 early in the second period, the Maple Leafs created a two-on-one and produced a quality scoring chance, but Rask made a timely, left-pad save on Toronto's Joffery Lupul at the five-minute mark of the period. That save proved crucial as the Bruins scored less than a minute later for a 2-0 advantage.
"It was a nice pass and it was kind of one of those knuckleballs that just dropped and missed my glove, and I just kicked it out," Rask said.
The Maple Leafs answered on Gardiner's power-play tally at 13:45 of the second, and suddenly what had been a quiet building erupted in jubilation, giving the Leafs a surge of energy.
Again, the Bruins answered when Nathan Horton scored less than a minute later for a 3-1 lead.
"When they got that first goal, they got the momentum a bit and it helped us a lot when we got that [third] goal right away after it," Rask said. "It's a big thing when you play on the road and try to break their momentum and today, for the most part, we did a pretty good job of that."
The Bruins did a solid job of clearing away traffic in front of Rask, which enabled him to get clean looks at a lot of the shots.
"I don't want to say there were a lot of easy saves, but there were a couple I didn't see and they happened to hit the post," Rask said. "As a goalie, you're always concerned about getting scored on, but today I just tried to stay in the zone and I felt comfortable.
"You just try to stay calm and well positioned all the time, and I thought today I did a pretty good job of that. Sometimes when teams create a lot of traffic and cross-ice passes, you kind of tend to get overaggressive and maybe that throws you off your game a bit. But today I just tried to stay calm even though they had a lot of shots."
Bruins forward Milan Lucic recently talked about how much fun it is to silence an opposing team's barn, and while his line produced offensively with a total of eight points in the win, it was Rask's performance between the pipes that muted most of the 19,746 in attendance, especially in the third period, which was not Boston's best of the night.
"He was great," Lucic said of Rask. "He played really well. He definitely stood on his head in the third period. We played extremely well the first two periods and then we kind of let the foot off the gas a bit in the third, but he stepped up and made some huge saves for us."
The Maple Leafs originally selected Rask as the 21st overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft. He was the second goalie taken in the first round behind the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price, but Rask never played for the Leafs because they traded him to the Bruins in exchange for goalie Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006.
The Bruins always hoped Rask would someday become the primary goalie in Boston, and this season has been a major step in that direction. He has been good in the playoffs, but he'll have to be great if the Bruins want to enjoy another deep run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"He's a calming influence for us back there," Shawn Thornton said. "He's been solid for us all year and he hasn't taken a night off. We're happy he's in between our pipes. For the most part, he's so in control that you know what you're getting from him, which makes life a little bit easier."
With the Maple Leafs struggling to crack Rask in Game 3, the Toronto fans that have been waiting nine years for playoff hockey to return to this city did their best to help their team, chanting Rask's name over and over.
"It's pretty tough to miss that. I don't know if they were cheering me or trying to get me rattled," he said with a smile. "I'd say the second one."
It didn't work because Rask was calm and cool, and helped the Bruins win a crucial game on enemy ice. Afterward he was exhausted and exhilarated.