BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are one victory shy of returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three seasons, and once again they have goaltending to thank for it.
It truly is "Tuukka Time."
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made 53 saves to help Boston earn a 2-1 double-overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Bruins now hold a 3-0 series lead and have a chance to close it out with a win Friday on home ice.
After Boston dominated the Penguins in the first two games of this series in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were the better team during regulation Wednesday, but Rask's performance, especially in the second period, gave the Bruins the opportunity to stay in it and eventually win in overtime. Patrice Bergeron redirected a pass from linemate Brad Marchand and beat Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun at 15:19 of the fifth period.
"Well, what can you say?" Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Rask's performance. "If you keep talking about those first three periods they were probably the better team, there's no doubt we're still in it because of him. He's extremely calm. I think he used a lot of energy this morning in practice so it calmed him down for tonight, which was probably a good thing."
Julien was referring to the team's morning skate when Rask caught a shot up high near the collarbone area during shooting drills by teammate Shawn Thornton. Rask yelled out a few choice words. After skating to the bench in obvious discomfort, he slammed his stick against the boards in anger.
Once the puck dropped for Game 3, Rask was his typical cool, calm self. He made timely saves, and also received a bit of luck from his best friend, the post, a total of five times in the game. When asked if he was surprised by how well Rask has played in this series against the Penguins, Bruins veteran defenseman Andrew Ference just laughed.
"Not surprised, no," he said. "We're spoiled because he's been great. The tandems we've had over the last few years, they just do the job. They don't expect anybody to pat them on the back and they're willing to shoulder the responsibility that they're the most important person on the team. It's great. We're lucky and we all realize that. He's not waiting for us to all pat him on the back all the time. He likes it and he relishes it."
OK, now that we've given Rask his due, it's tough not to mention former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. He will always deserve credit for his historic performance that helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011, but what Rask has done to this point rivals that stretch of incredible play by Thomas.
"They're different people," Ference said. "[Rask has] waited so long for this job and for this moment to be the guy and he's stepped right up to the plate and handled it fantastically from a playing standpoint, from an attitude standpoint and everything you could ask for out of a good teammate. He's brought it. He's not waiting for guys to pat him on the back because that's just not his style."
Even after playing five periods and facing a ton of shots, Rask was standing at his locker stall and answered questions for more than 15 minutes. He talked about the challenge and his teammates in front of him, but he dismissed most questions about his performance.
"I don't think you feel that physical fatigue at that point, it's just you try to keep your head in and not thinking that you're tired. It's a mental challenge. If you think you're tired, you're tired; if you don't, you don't," Rask said.
"I feel good. I don't feel any better than I felt throughout the playoffs. Our team is helping me out a lot. If you let in two goals in three games, you're making some good saves, too. But we're blocking shots and taking care of rebounds pretty well, so that helps me to do my job a lot."
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma has had to make too many goaltending decisions, and that's been the main storyline surrounding the Penguins in this series. After the Bruins chased Vokoun in Game 2, the Penguins inserted Marc-Andre Fleury. There was some debate over what Bylsma should do for Game 3, but the team announced Wednesday morning Vokoun would get the nod.
To his credit, Vokoun played well and finished with 38 saves. After Bergeron's game-winning goal with 4:41 remaining in double OT, Vokoun's teammates were all there to pat him on the back -- literally -- for his fine work.
"He was awesome," said Penguins forward Jarome Iginla. "Both goalies, you have to tip your hat. He made huge saves on their power plays at different times, very timely ones. OT, I think he stopped the [Nathan Horton] breakaway. We had great shots and great looks at Rask and he was finding them through some good screens. Goalies played great tonight. I mean, we had some great looks."
After five periods of hockey and 54 shots on net by the Penguins, Rask stood proud in the locker room, not for his performance, but for his team's effort.
"It was definitely a grind," Rask said. "Both teams played pretty good. That second period for us was the worst one but we battled and going into double overtime, it's anyone's game."
He would never admit it, but he appeared drained.
"Not the freshest feeling but the win makes it a little easier," he said.
If the Bruins can win one more game in this series, they will return to the Stanley Cup finals on the shoulders of a different goaltender.