TORONTO – Score one big playoff win for the notion that Tuukka Rask is the big-game goalie that you want on that wall, the big-game goalie that you need on that wall.
Rask was stellar between the pipes, making 31 saves in the Bruins' 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 at the Air Canada Centre and quite simply stepped up for his team with Patrice Bergeron (upper-body injury) a late scratch for the game. Rask was at his best early in the game when the B’s were getting their bearings in the first couple of periods without No. 37 on the ice and did his job keeping the game right where it was at a 1-1 until the Bruins could finally kick their offense into gear late in the second period.
”It was very important. The last period was our best period for sure, but we hung in there. We capitalized on our chances that we got, but sometimes when you play a team that’s desperate you’ve got to kind of weather the storm,” said Rask. “Today, we did and we did it together. At the end of the day, we get the ‘W’ and that’s great.”
Among the best stops in a game where the B’s definitely did not win the puck possession battle: A first-period stop on a Patrick Marleau shot on a 2-on-1 that was exactly the kind of play Toronto scored on him twice in Game 3, and a second-period save on a Mitch Marner breakaway chance with the B’s goaltender just getting a piece of the shot from the skilled Leafs forward.
There was a lot of scrambling in the first couple of periods for the Black and Gold, with even a few moments where Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk got caught on the ice together as a pairing hemmed into the zone with their goalie bailing them out. That’s the kind of standing-tall performance that can exude confidence from Rask and make doubts begin to creep into the Leafs players that maybe they’re not going to be good enough to get past the Bruins goalie.
Clearly, it wasn’t Rask’s best playoff game ever because his 50-save performance in Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013 will be awfully difficult to top, but this might have been Rask’s best performance in a big spot for his team. With the undermanned group missing Bergeron and the danger that Toronto could even up the series 2-2 and take all the momentum away, Rask did everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen. It was a resounding answer to those, like this humble hockey writer, that have sometimes doubted his toughness in big-game situations and it was exactly what the Bruins needed from their No. 1 guy.
“We talked about that. You watch the games [on Wednesday] night, right, and you’re watching Tampa Bay and seeing the goaltender performance there, and you watch Winnipeg," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "On the road, you’re going to need a little extra at some point, especially against a team that was down a couple of [games] in our building. We got it and we needed it. Early on they were better and then we found our legs and started managing the puck a little better and getting stronger on it.
“Then we came on and scored some goals for [Rask]. It’s a good formula. Every team needs goaltending. The odd night you’re going to get away without it. But tonight we needed [Rask] to dig in and be very good, and he was.”
So far, it’s been a pretty good postseason for Rask with a 3-1 record, a 2.27 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage for a team that flat-out dominated Toronto in the first couple of games without any need of help from their goalie. Rask wasn’t great in the Game 3 loss in Toronto where he was off his angle on the final Marleau goal that clinched the game for Toronto in the third period. He clearly he found a way to answer for that one game later.
“[Rask] played a phenomenal game. He’s one of the best goalies in the world and he gives us an opportunity to win every night,” said Brad Marchand, who potted the game-winning goal in Game 4 at the end of the second period. “He made a lot of big saves early on to give us a chance to get back in the game. We really need to give him a lot of credit for tonight.”
The way Rask has looked early in the series against Toronto is a pretty good argument that Boston’s plan heading into this season was the right one for their goaltender. They got Rask (54 games played) just under the 55-60 games they projected him for this season so that he would be well-rested down the stretch and into the postseason and he’s 100 percent healthy entering this postseason after battling through groin issues a year ago.
Rask’s brilliant Game 4 might not make anybody forget giving up two goals in 17 seconds in Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, or essentially calling in sick for a must-win, regular-season finale at the Ottawa Senators that the Bruins memorably bombed out on while missing the playoffs in 2015. Still, it might also be showing that the Bruins No. 1 goaltender is evolving the narrative of his own story, and giving naysayers no choice but to pay credit where it’s due for a critical postseason where Rask can change a lot of minds if he keeps up his current level of play.
Certainly, Rask is off to a promisingly good start three games in and already has one of the signature big games everybody can look back on when reviewing his postseason performance this spring.