Bruins

Rask is 'in a zone' and it's the biggest reason the Bruins will win the Cup

Rask is 'in a zone' and it's the biggest reason the Bruins will win the Cup

RALEIGH, N.C. – Tuukka Rask is the reason the Bruins are where they are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: one win away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

Rask is “in the zone” and playing the best hockey of his career at the biggest, brightest moment with a legit chance at the Cup. He is the leader in the Eastern Conference clubhouse for the Conn Smythe and looks like the early favorite overall with San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture as the other name currently being bandied about weeks before we’ll ultimately have a Cup winner.

Certainly his teammates are all in with Rask in a different way than ever before. They’ve always known he was their best goalie and the unquestioned No. 1 on their teams, but now there’s a different level of confidence in their eyes based on what they see out of their goaltender during these high-pressure postseason games.

“It’s been his poise. He’s one of those guys that’s always been calm and collected, and never really been up or down. He’s even-keeled. But right now he’s in the zone to be honest with you,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He’s been amazing. He’s a huge reason why we’re [one game from the Cup Final] right now.”

So what’s the difference been for Rask this time around? Why is he boasting a ridiculous .939 save percentage during the playoffs overall and a blistering .944 save percentage in the three games against the Carolina Hurricanes?

It sure feels like Rask’s always vast potential as a gifted first-round pick, an All-Star and a Vezina Trophy-winner is being fully realized in the biggest games of the season, and said potential is finally intersecting with the experience gained over the course of a 10-year NHL career that’s had its share of ups and downs along the way.

“The way you see the puck, you feel comfortable,” said Rask, who has upped his career save percentage in the playoffs to a big .927 number during this run. “It’s about timing and patience and all that. Experience helps that. So you try to stay mentally focused and sharp, night in and night out, and not get rattled about anything.

“But, being in the zone? Nobody knows what that means. I want to play calm and make myself look big. And maybe on tough chances try to make it look easy, so if that’s in the zone, so be it. I just try to be focused and give us a chance.”

The experience, the poise and the overwhelming talent were all on display again on Tuesday night as Rask backstopped the Bruins to a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Rask was nothing short of amazing, stopping 20 shots in a first-period onslaught from the desperate Hurricanes, and going through a ridiculous sequence where he stopped four consecutive shots amidst a Hurricanes power play. The two best saves during that moment were on Micheal Ferland at the doorstep and then another one on Justin Williams crashing in from the slot.

It was a period where the Bruins needed Rask to be at his absolute best and the B’s goaltender had seemingly ripped the hearts out of the Hurricanes players by the end of it as they steamrolled to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“He’s been dialed in since April 11 since we started. He’s been excellent. He hasn’t had a poor night. He’s had a couple of [games] that I’d say were above average, but other than that he’s been really, really good,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The guys have played with Tuukka for a while and they know what he’s made out of. It obviously allowed us to regroup after the first period and find our game.

“For me, I don’t know if there’s been another period,” added Cassidy, when asked if this was as confident as he’s ever been in Rask. “It’s the urgency and the time of the year. We’re in the Eastern Conference Final, right? We’ve gone into some tough environments, Toronto and a good offensive team in Columbus that had just taken down Tampa. Probably right now is the best I’ve seen him play because of the magnitude of the season. I don’t want that to come out the wrong way because I’ve seen him go on some other very good runs.”

So what does this all mean for Rask, and for the Bruins? Obviously the much-discussed Bruins netminder has answered plenty of questions with his fine Game 7 performance against the Maple Leafs, and the way he elevated his game toward the end of the Columbus series while flat-out outplaying Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Rask is a major advantage for the Bruins in the conference final against a not-ready-for-primetime Carolina team that’s got all kinds of goaltending issues with Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney between the pipes.

But now it’s about finishing up strong, remaining consistent for the rest of this postseason and leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory just as his old goalie partner Tim Thomas did almost 10 years ago for the Bruins. That will be the exact moment when Rask will have permanently shut the mouths of his naysayers, this humble hockey writer included, and will once and for all have finally, completely lived up to the potential that’s always been there since his very beginning with the Bruins organization after getting traded from Toronto.  

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Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panhters

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Talking Points: Krejci, DeBrusk answer the bell in Bruins' win over Panhters

Here are my talking points from tonight's 4-2 Bruins win in South Florida . . .

GOLD STAR: David Krejci didn’t have a single point during the five-game losing streak. But on Saturday night he stepped up and, lo and behold, the Bruins took home two points. It was Krejci helped kick-start the transition game for Jake DeBrusk’s goal in the first period, and then scored one of his own in the second on a strike from the top of the faceoff circle. Krejci finished with a goal and two points and a plus-2 rating in 16:20 of ice time. He also had five shot attempts and won 9-of-14 faceoffs in a game where the second line providence plenty of offense and pressure. Bruce Cassidy slipped Charlie Coyle up to second-line right wing with Krejci and DeBrusk at the outset of the game, and it seemed to work well for the Black and Gold.

See the highlights from Boston's 4-2 win>>>

BLACK EYE: Jonathan Huberdeau is having a very good season for the Panthers, but he wasn’t able to bring out his “A” game for Florida against the Bruins. Huberdeau didn’t get a single shot on net in the 21:25 of ice time that he played. He finished with three giveaways and a minus-1 against the Bruins. He was part of the line set to contain the Krejci line, but instead allowed them to march right up the ice on DeBrusk’s first period scoring play. Huberdeau was also on ice in the third, when Florida coach Joel Quenneville pulled the goalie with more than two minutes to go, only for David Pastrnak to quickly notch an empty-netter that sealed the game. Not a good night for a very good player.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins weathered the storm in the third when the Panthers came hard after them and carved out a couple of goals to cut the lead to 3-2. Considering that the Bruins blew a 4-0 third period lead against the Panthers at home just a month ago, there was certainly some nervous, anxious moments, with the Bruins looking like they’d blow a three-goal lead in the third period this time. But the B’s stiffened after Jaro Halak gave up a soft goal on a Keith Yandle point shot to make it a one-goal game. They didn’t allow Florida to take advantage of any other breakdowns. Instead the B’s hung in there, patiently waiting until the Florida net opened up the winning scoring chance for them.

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HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk was at the heart of some of the criticism from Bruce Cassidy after the loss in Tampa when the second and third lines weren’t getting much of anything done. DeBrusk was also one of the players that responded in a big way this weekend by scoring the game’s first goal, a pretty nifty dangle through Florida defenders before beating Sergei Bobrovsky in tight close to the net. DeBrusk also fed David Krejci for his second period goal, finishing with five shot attempts and a couple blocked shots in 15:38 of ice time while posting a plus-2 rating. Perhaps just as important, DeBrusk was winning 50/50 battles for the puck and playing a competitive brand of hockey rather than doing fly-bys in a lot of areas while hunting the puck. If DeBrusk played with the same kind of speed, skill and tenacity on more nights, he’d be a difference-maker for the Bruins more often.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 – The number of goals for David Pastrnak after collecting two scores against the Panthers, and putting himself in a position where he’s easily going to have 30 goals before the Christmas break.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought we did a really good job. Every line played well. We moved some guys around, but right up and down the lineup all 12 forwards, 6 [defensemen] and Jaroslav Halak were all really good.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN when asked his assessment of the win that snapped the longest B’s losing streak (five games) since he took over as head coach.  

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Highlights: B's snap losing skid vs. Panthers

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Highlights: B's snap losing skid vs. Panthers

FINAL SCORE: Bruins 4, Panthers 2

IN BRIEF: Oh not, not this again? After the Bruins’ epic third-period collapse in their last meeting with Florida, they nearly repeated themselves after going up 3-0 after two periods. Keith Yandle’s goal with 11 minutes left made it 3-2, Boston fought off the Panthers long enough for David Pastrnak to get an empty-netter that sealed it. And so, after coach Bruce Cassidy called out their attention to details earlier in the week, the Bruins snapped their losing skid with a solid all-around effort.

BOX SCORE

BRUINS RECORD: 21-7-6 (48 points, 1st in Atlantic Division)

HIGHLIGHTS

DEBRUSK’S 100TH CAREER POINT IS A BEAUTY

KREJCI MAKES IT 2-0

PERFECTION LINE MAKES IT LOOK EASY

UP NEXT:

vs. Los Angeles, Tuesday, 7 p.m., NESN

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