BOSTON – At a time like Wednesday night’s Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s perhaps appropriate to remember what a certain Bruins insider said toward the end of the B’s regular season.
This version of the Bruins is so good that there will be times in the postseason when they can win in spite of goaltender Tuukka Rask rather than because of goaltender Tuukka Rask. That was 100 percent the case in Wednesday night’s Game 7 as Rask was not good in the first two periods while allowing four goals on 16 shots, but was rescued by a Bruins team that pounded Frederik Andersen and the Leafs for four goals in the third period en route to a 7-4 win at TD Garden.
One could certainly give Rask some partial credit for making eight saves in the third period once the Bruins had scored a couple of goals and wrestled the lead away from Toronto, and he was certainly better than his counterpart Andersen at the other end of the ice.
But the truth is that Boston didn’t allow a single shot on net in the first 10 minutes of the third period while taking their goalie out of the equation as a possible factor. That is how the Bruins ended up winning the game and bailing out a goalie that was struggling once again in a Game 7 situation, and had to battle the entire way.
“For entertainment value that was probably one of the better game 7’s you’ll see. It was offense going both ways and a goalie’s kind of nightmare there – only scoring chances coming at you,” said Rask. “We stuck with it that’s what we’ve been doing all year. It was only a one-goal game going into the third, and we shut it down and scored some good goals.
“[My confidence] can’t [waver] in that situation. You try to stay tall there and play your angles right and make some saves. It’s definitely it’s a little bit easier when you have experience from that kind of game, I was trying to stay calm and battle through it.”
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When the Bruins were trailing by a goal at the end of the second and Rask was struggling in a do-or-die Game 7, there were many (this humble hockey writer included) wondering if Bruce Cassidy would pull his ineffective No. 1 in favor of backup Anton Khudobin. Credit the Bruins head coach for making the right call in sticking with Rask, and having the faith that his dominant third-period team from the regular season would show up in the playoffs. He said after the game that the team’s confidence in their goalie was never shaken despite a couple of tough goals allowed in the opening 40 minutes.
“You want your goalie to be at his best. There’s no doubt. That’s stating the obvious, but I think our guys were comfortable with where we were,” said Cassidy, at the start of the third period. “We knew we could get some by [Andersen]. We had. We got three by him at the time. He got hot there in the second period, so we stuck with it.
“But I don’t think there was a doubt that if we got ourselves back tied or in the lead, that Tuukka would be fine down the stretch. The guys have confidence in our goaltending; they have all year. Both goalies obviously [had] big moments. There’s a lot of pressure on them, and we saw it at both ends. At the end of the day, he found his game. We picked each other up, and off we went.”
Here’s the plain truth about Rask in that Game 7, and in a series where he compiled an .899 save percentage.
A Patrick Marleau goal from the right circle less than two minutes after Boston’s first goal of the game was a potential momentum-killer on a lesser Bruins team, and an elite goalie needs to make a save on the Kasperi Kapanen shorthanded breakaway in the second period. Rask is now 2-2 with a .847 save percentage in four Game 7’s in his Stanley Cup playoff career, and he’s now been rescued twice by his teammates with epic third-period comebacks against the Leafs in the first round for both of those wins.
The Bruins’ hope at this point is Rask can springboard the first-round victory over the Leafs into something much better in the later rounds, but the Black and Gold won a seven-game series against Toronto in spite of Rask rather than because of him.