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BOSTON -- Plenty of times during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask spoke his mind. He was honest. He was confident.
Rask was also damn good between the pipes. He erased any doubt about whether he's a true No. 1 goalie in the NHL. The Bruins should be set in net for the foreseeable future, as long as they give him a well-deserved, long-term contract this summer.
It shouldn't matter that the Bruins fell short of achieving their ultimate goal of winning a second championship in a three-year span. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated Boston 3-2 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals Monday night at TD Garden, but Rask was the team's most consistent player throughout the playoffs. Had the Bruins found a way to win, he would have been a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe (which was won by Chicago's Patrick Kane).
|"It's shocking because you think you have things under control," goalie Tuukka Rask said after the Bruins' Game 6 loss.|
The season came down to a span of 17 seconds for the Bruins. In that short amount of time, the Blackhawks scored the game-tying and game-winning goals en route to the Stanley Cup title. It was the second-fastest two-goal flurry ever scored against the Bruins in a playoff game.
When Milan Lucic scored at 12:11 of the third period to give Boston a 2-1 lead, it seemed likely that there would be a Game 7 back in Chicago on Wednesday night.
With Chicago goalie Corey Crawford off the ice in favor of an extra attacker, Bryan Bickell scored at 18:44 to tie the game at 2-2. The life was sucked out of the Garden and the Bruins.
"It was [Jonathan] Toews, he had the puck and I had to respect him if he was going to stuff it," explained Rask. "There was another guy kind of in the middle, [Zdeno Chara] was there and then they had another guy in the backdoor and he made a good play, then [Bickell] shot against the grain, five-hole. I stretched my leg and couldn't cover the five-hole."
At 19:01 Chicago's Dave Bolland notched what proved to be the game winner, and less than a minute later the Blackhawks were celebrating a Stanley Cup victory on Garden ice.
"The last one was tip, deflection, post. I kept my stick there but not strong enough," Rask said.
The Bruins lost focus with the game tied. They were unorganized and it cost them.
"Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it's shocking because you think you have things under control," Rask said. "We killed off a big penalty there and we were thinking we were going to keep it tight and maybe score an empty-netter. Then all of a sudden they score a goal and you have to go out there again and keep playing. But many times it goes like that, the team that scores the goal keeps the momentum and that's what happened. They got a shot, a deflection, rebound and a goal."
In those moments that followed, the Bruins and Rask felt first-hand what it was like for the Toronto Maple Leafs when Boston erased a three-goal deficit in the third period in Game 7 of the quarterfinal series to win and advance. Two of those goals came in the final 31 seconds to tie the game before the Bruins won it in overtime.
"We've done it to somebody else, so we've got to feel how it feels being on the other side," Rask said. "This season we were known to lose a couple of leads; even in the regular season we were up goals and we lost the game. I guess that sums it up pretty good."
During the playoffs, the Bruins surrendered a third-period lead four times in three games -- Games 1 and 6 versus Chicago and Game 4 versus the New York Rangers -- and lost all three games.
During the regular season, Boston surrendered third-period leads 10 times in 10 games and posted a 1-5-4 record.
The Bruins also blew a one-goal lead with less than 1:30 remaining twice during the regular season and lost both games -- April 17 versus Buffalo and March 27 versus Montreal.
In that series against the Maple Leafs, that Game 7 victory was the turning point for this Bruins team. But in the end, they felt Toronto's pain.
"We did it to Toronto, so I guess we get a taste of our medicine," Rask said. "It sucks."
From a goaltending standpoint, Rask did his job. He came in and replaced Tim Thomas -- a Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner -- and Rask did it well. Throughout the postseason, Rask and Thomas were compared all too often, and now some will say that only Thomas accomplished the ultimate goal.
Rask is only 26. He has a long career ahead of him. And with the way the Bruins are built, with a young core of talent and more on the way, Rask will likely have another chance to help this organization win a Cup.
"I've said it all along: Words can't describe how he's played. He stepped into that spotlight and he dominated it," said Bruins forward Tyler Seguin. "He earned it for a long time to come in Boston."
No one in the Bruins locker room would blame Rask for the Game loss, or any loss for that matter.
"Tuukka played unbelievable through the whole year, through the postseason. I mean, he gave us a chance to win everything. It's too bad we just couldn't do it," said defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
The Bruins were riddled with injuries. Assistant captain Patrice Bergeron played Game 6 with a broken rib and torn rib cartilage -- both suffered in Game 5 -- and he also separated a shoulder in Game 6. Fellow forward Nathan Horton has been dealing with a separated shoulder. Tyler Seguin was bothered by a hip injury, and many others were banged and bruised, too. And frankly, the team wasn't the same after Gregory Campbell suffered a broken leg in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"It was a battle," Rask said. "Everybody left it out there. We had some guys playing through injury and we lost Soupy there, but that's how the playoffs go and you have to battle through those and this year weren't fortunate enough to stay healthy and have a full squad. But still, it's not excuse and you just have to battle through it."
Once the Bruins are able to recover and regroup, they'll understand they still accomplished a lot during the lockout-shortened, 48-game regular season. And their postseason run -- albeit short of the Cup -- was still a success, especially for Rask.
"It was fun. It was a great run," Rask said. "I had a lot of fun and it's great to play with guys like this. We tried to have a lot of fun out there and play hard every night. We made it a great run. Too bad we couldn't finish it off.
"I don't think a lot of people expected us to go this far. We shocked the hockey world beating Pittsburgh, and going to the finals I don't know if we were a little shocked or not, but definitely proud of the guys and the effort we gave."
After the Bruins won that first-round series against the Maple Leafs in dramatic fashion in Game 7, Rask made the statement: "You're either a hero or an a------."
The Bruins lost, but he's far from the latter.
"It's a tough way to finish the season, I guess," Rask said.