Commentary

Tuukka Rask follows winning course

Bruins goalie on top of his game, much like Tim Thomas for 2011 Cup champs

Updated: May 21, 2013, 9:56 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- If numbers don't lie, then the Boston Bruins should be encouraged by the play of goaltender Tuukka Rask in the first nine games of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The last time the Bruins received goaltending of this caliber they enjoyed an historic run en route to a Stanley Cup championship on the pads, gloves and stick of Tim Thomas in 2011.

Thomas posted a 6-3 record with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in the first nine games of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Rask's numbers this spring are eerily similar. He's 6-3 with a 2.37 GAA and a .928 save percentage.

"He's solid. He's been solid ever since he's been here," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "For whatever reason, he flies under the radar a little bit, but I guess he's starting to make a name for himself now. He's very in control and he's a calming influence for us. We know he's going to be there for us to make the stops when we need him to make the stops. He's been fairly consistent."

There could be a lot more hockey remaining for the Bruins this spring, and if this run continues for the long haul, Rask will need to stay consistent. In 2011, Thomas played all 25 postseason games and posted a 16-9 record, with a 1.98 GAA, a .940 save percentage and four shutouts.

Rask made a bold and honest statement after Boston's historic come-from-behind victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. The Bruins erased a three-goal deficit in the final 10 minutes, scoring two six-on-five goals in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime before Patrice Bergeron netted the game-winner. Rask made timely saves in OT to help Boston secure the victory and advance to the semifinals against the New York Rangers.

"It's do or die. You have to make a save. You're either a hero or an a------," Rask said.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Steve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesTuukka Rask has outplayed reigning Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist through two games.

Boston's masked man was not calling Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer the impolite term. What Rask meant was if he had allowed a goal in the extra period, the Bruins' season would have ended and fans would have blamed him, drawing comparisons to the 2010 postseason, when Rask was in net for the historic implosion against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Ever since Thomas' self-banishment from hockey, Rask's accomplishments and failures have been compared to the two-time Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner.

"I don't care," Rask said. "People can say, think what they want. I'm fine with that. You've got to talk about something, right? I just try not to stir the pot."

The Bruins have been spoiled when it comes to goaltending.

"It's one of the things you kind of expect," Bergeron said. "I know it's almost wrong to say it, but that's what it is. Tuukka's stepped up big time and we knew how good he is and was. We expected him to step up like he has, and he's done it the whole year and in the playoffs he's helping us every game.

"Sometimes he goes unnoticed, but not from his teammates. We know what to expect from him every time and it's always his best effort and it goes a long way for us."

Comparing the teams at the start of this series, Boston and New York looked similar in many categories. The one edge the Rangers seemed to have was in net with reigning Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, who has dominated the Bruins in his career. In 30 career regular-season games against Boston, King Henrik is 21-7-2 with a 1.67 goals-against average, including six shutouts.

In this series, he's been off his game. At the other end of the ice, Rask is proving to be the better goaltender.

"We've got a lot of confidence in Tuukka," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "And if you compare both there's no doubt that Henrik Lundqvist has more experience than Tuukka does, but that doesn't change anything. Our guys have done a great job in front of him, and what he showed in the second period [in Game 2], it could have been a totally different game had he not stood tall for us in the second period. So he allowed us to recover and play a much better period in the third.

"He's been good for us all year, and our guys have lots of confidence in him. So it's about having confidence in your goaltender and finding ways to get through the other one."

The Bruins have found plenty of ways to get pucks through Lundqvist.

It's unusual for him to allow a total of eight goals in consecutive games. In Game 2, he made 27 saves and now is 29-35 in 64 career postseason games. The last time he allowed five goals in a game was March 9, 2011, at Anaheim, a span that covers 152 games.

"I think playing the Bruins is about paying attention to details in the game and I think they have been the better team in that department," Lundqvist said. "All the details in the game, they play a solid team game and so do we, but when you lack that little bit it's a tough game. But I'm confident and I'm going to go home and try to play a strong game in the next one."

Rask has been consistent the entire postseason. He hasn't had a bad game, which is something else is has in common with Thomas during his Cup run.

"My confidence is always high. That's just how I try to be," Rask said. "No matter what happens, I try to stay calm and even-keeled. Confidence can't go any lower or higher, I think."

Rask has the numbers to back up his strong play between the pipes, but he's passing the eye test too.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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