The Boston Bruins bounced back from a tough overtime loss in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Washington Capitals and won the next four matchups to reach the second round for the fourth consecutive season.
The final victory came Sunday night in Game 5 at Capital One Arena. The Bruins opened up a 2-0 lead in the second period and ultimately prevailed with a 3-1 win.
The series began with three overtime games, and the turning point came in Game 3 when Bruins forward Craig Smith took advantage of a miscue by Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov behind the net and scored the winning goal in double overtime. From that point, the B's were the far superior team and closed out the series with two strong performances.
Here are four observations from Game 5.
1) Tuukka Rask gives awesome performance
Sunday night was Rask's best game of the series.
He stopped 40 of the 41 shots he faced, including 30 of 31 shots over the final two periods when the Capitals were making a desperate push to save their season.
The veteran netminder finished the series with a 1.81 goals against average and a .940 save percentage. His save percentage on high-danger chances was a sparkling .906 (all situations). Rask also has the second-best overall save percentage among all goalies in the 2021 playoffs with four or more games played.
A lot of criticism -- much of it unfair -- was hurled toward Rask following the Bruins' loss in Game 1. Yes, the goal he gave up in overtime was a bit soft, but he wasn't the first-, second- or third-biggest issue in that defeat.
Rask responded by improving his performance in each of the next four matchups, culminating with a dominant effort Sunday. He stopped 130 of the 137 shots (.949 save percentage) sent his way over the last four games to propel Boston into the next round.
The pressure on Rask to perform at a high level will only increase as the Bruins inch closer to a return to the Stanley Cup Final. But after missing a large chunk of the season due to injury, Rask is starting to find his Vezina form again, and the timing couldn't be better for the B's.
2) Mike Reilly has been a great pickup
Taylor Hall has received most of the attention among the Bruins' trade deadline acquisitions, and rightfully so given his excellent scoring production over the last month-and-a-half. But we shouldn't forget about Mike Reilly, who has been a great addition to Boston's blue line.
Reilly picked up the primary assist on Boston's first two goals. On the second tally, Reilly retrieved the puck and hit Bergeron perfectly in stride to set up the scoring chance.
Reilly is a great skater and moves the puck quickly and accurately. He can skate out of trouble in the defensive zone and will jumpstart the transition game with the right first pass up ice. Those skills were on full display in Game 5.
The veteran defenseman us going to be a very important piece for the Bruins the rest of the playoffs.
3) Patrice Bergeron delivers in the clutch
Bergeron has scored in so many series-clinching games for the Bruins in his career -- including some memorable Game 7s -- and Sunday night was yet another example.
The B's captain tallied Boston's second goal in the second period. He beat Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov blocker side to open up a 2-0 lead.
The Capitals were making a strong push to tie the score in the third period when Bergeron made a tremendous defensive play in the attacking zone to steal the puck and again beat Samsonov to increase Boston's advantage to 3-1 with 7:35 remaining.
Bergeron now has four series-clinching goals in his career, which is tied for the third-most in playoff history. Here's a roundup of those four tallies:
- Game 7, 2011 Stanley Cup Final vs. VAN
- Game 7, 2013 Conference Quarterfinal vs. TOR
- Game 5, 2020 First Round vs. CAR
- Game 5, 2021 First Round vs. WSH
Bergeron tallied four points (three goals, one assist) in the five-game series versus the Capitals, while also dominating in the faceoff circle and excelling on a penalty kill unit that neutralized Washington's primary weapon (its power play). It was the type of elite all-around performance the Bruins expect from Bergeron, and unsurprisingly he delivered.
4) How long will the Bruins wait?
The Bruins' opponent for the second round has not yet been determined. However, we do know it will be the winner of the first-round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders.
This series is tied at two games apiece entering Monday night's Game 5 in Pittsburgh. The B's will have a couple days off regardless of when that series ends, but if it goes to a Game 7 on Friday night, Boston could get a full week of rest between the first and second rounds.
Too much rest can sometimes be a bad thing, but for a Bruins team with plenty of older veterans and a blue line that's without two regulars in Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller, an extended break would actually be beneficial.