Rask slams door on doubt, Rangers

BOSTON -- In the wake of a gnarly Game 4 Bruins playoff loss to the New York Rangers, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask had fallen down and couldn't get up.


This immediately set off all sorts of Pavlovian, angst-ridden New England sports alarms, which, in turn, triggered the resurrection of some frightening Bruins playoff ghosts, among them a 2010 nightmare in which Boston held a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers only to cough it up a 3-0 Game 7 lead and lose the series with -- you remember -- Rask in net.

Never mind that Rask was one of the reasons the Bruins had advanced to the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals in the first place. He had waited patiently for his turn to shine, and had all but made former netminder (and Stanley Cup hero) Tim Thomas disappear without a trace from the conversation -- until Rask provided an unfortunate blooper clip when he slipped and fell in the crease in Game 4, then watched helplessly as a harmless dribbler rolled in for a goal.

Although it wasn't as humiliating as Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's butt fumble, which has become a staple of late-night punch lines, it was the turning point in that Game 4 defeat and had enabled the Rangers to cobble together a little dash of momentum.

It needed to be negated -- quickly. And there was only one way to do that: win Game 5.

"Some of it is you don't want that to linger on, saying, 'Oh, because of that goal, that's why New York is back in the series,'" conceded Bruins coach Claude Julien.

The series is now officially over. Rask's teammates made a conscious effort to lift him to his feet, and he returned the favor with a critical save midway through the third period Saturday to preserve a 3-1 victory.

The Bruins not only dispatched the Rangers in 5 games to advance to the conference finals, they also put to rest the narrative that had bubbled to the surface that the Bruins (and Rask) couldn't seal the deal in close-out games.

"We didn't like that," confirmed defenseman Torey Krug, who once again proved to be the most electric Bruins player on the ice. "What happened in the last game was in the past. [Rask] handled it right. He kind of made a joke of it.

"And then he made some saves that were game changers for us."

After his team handed him a 2-1 advantage after two periods, it fell on Rask to lock it down in those final pressure-packed minutes.

He delivered when Ryan Callahan came down on a breakaway midway through the third period and tried to beat him with a backhand.

Defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who was beat on the play, watched helplessly as Callahan attacked the net.

"I was thinking, 'Oh crap, come on, this isn't actually going to happen,'" Bartkowski admitted.

"That would have been a back-breaker if it went in."

Instead Rask, who said afterward he was banking on Callahan to keep it on his forehand, managed to flick the puck away with his leg.

"I didn't feel bad about myself after Game 4," Rask said. "Obviously, there was a little screw-up there with that goal. But I didn't let it bother me. ... I just wanted to be big and rock solid back there today."

Since the Boston Marathon bombings, the Bruins began a playoff tradition of awarding an Army Ranger camouflage jacket with a Bruins patch on it to the player of the game after a win. That player kept the jacket in his locker until the next victory was secured, and then passed it on to the teammate he felt most deserved it.

On Saturday night, Daniel Paille draped the Army Ranger coat around his goaltender's shoulders.

"Nobody's ever questioned Tuukka in here," declared Shawn Thornton, who endeared himself further to his faithful fan base by pummeling Rangers agitator Derek Dorsett in the first period.

Rask was hardly alone in eliminating the Rangers from the equation.

There was the diminutive Krug, whose cult status continues to explode at a Jackie Bradley Jr. pace. The difference, of course, is that Bradley isn't quite ready for prime time at Fenway.

Is there any doubt Krug is prepared to play under the bright lights at the Garden? His one-timer is lethal, his defensive instincts are excellent and his poise suggests the resume of a salty veteran, not a young upstart who was playing in Providence less than a month ago.

Krug was pressed into service when Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden were felled by injuries. Seidenberg returned to the lineup on Saturday night, but Dougie Hamilton -- not Krug -- was the healthy scratch.

Krug and his aggressive play are here to stay. He scored another goal in Game 5 (the aforementioned snappy one-timer) and has been the catalyst of a "depleted" defensive corps that scored seven of the team's 16 goals against the Rangers in this series.

"He doesn't want to just be out there," noted Seidenberg. "He wants to grab the puck and do something special."

There were other Bruins who were worth of mention, among them Milan Lucic, who imposed his physical on the game, and the magical fourth line of Daniel Paille, Thornton and Greg Campbell, who were a burr in the Rangers' side throughout this series.

The Bruins advance to play the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins, the most explosive team in hockey. Pittsburgh not only boasts the best player in the game (Sidney Crosby), but a host of complementary snipers, including Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla (who spurned the Bruins at the trading deadline).

While Pittsburgh might have the decided edge in offensive firepower, there's reason to believe the goaltending scales will tip in Boston's favor. Former Stanley Cup champion and former No. 1 overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury struggled so mightily in the opening playoff series he was benched and replaced by Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun in Round 2.

Rask said he's ready for the inevitable onslaught of scoring chances generated by Crosby and his cronies. The Rangers series is in his rear-view mirror, both the better and the worse.

"I told Tuukka at the end of the game, 'You can start laughing now,'" said Julien.

Sure he can. But only for a day. As Tuukka Rask knows all too well, it's only funny when you win.