One game doesn’t make or break a narrative regarding individual players. When it involves Tuukka Rask, well, that narrative enters another dimension.
By now, the Rask narrative from the detractors is ad nauseam. The moment he steals a game like he did Thursday night in Game 4, the anti-Rask crowd goes into hiding. Of course, they return more vocal than ever on social media and sports radio programs like Felger and Mazz whenever he has a dud of an outing.
All of this has led to Rask becoming the most polarizing athlete in Boston. And even in performances like Game 4, Rask won’t get the benefit of the doubt from those detractors.
He will, however, get praise from his teammates.
“It was huge, especially last night,” captain Zdeno Chara said about Rask during Friday’s media availability at Warrior Ice Arena. “I thought they had some chances where they could score and he made some big saves at crucial times, and we got some chances and we scored. Definitely, you know, it’s something that we needed and for sure for him as well it’s a big boost confidence-wise.”
Thirty-one saves on 32 shots is quite the confidence boost. From breakaways to one-timers, Rask was there for the timely stops. He also had some help in the form of 27 blocked shots from his fellow defensemen, including four from 5-foot-9 Torey Krug.
Taking that and the two clutch goals from Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk into account, Rask’s performance was the main reason why the Bruins earned that 3-1 victory and are returning home with a chance to end the Maple Leafs’ season Saturday night at TD Garden.
“He was the biggest reason why we won,” DeBrusk told reporters about Rask (via Bruins.com) “They came out pretty hard there after they scored that first goal [by Tomas Plekanec], they were all over us. It was impressive to watch. He’s the biggest reason why we won today, for sure. He kept the game winnable.”
Okay so one game doesn’t make a difference, right? He’ll go back to choking in no time.
Well, let’s just bring up some of Rask stats and accolades for a minute. There’s the 2013 run to the Cup Final where he had a .940 save percentage and 1.88 goals against average. That run included just two — yes two — goals allowed in the B’s four-game sweep of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins. Sure, he benefited from a couple of blowouts in that series, but his performance against the Pens was something to marvel at. Maybe not Tim Thomas circa 2011, but still quite special.
Oh and there’s that 2014 Vezina Trophy. Yes, he could have been better against Carey Price and the Canadiens in their Round 2 loss, but the Bruins could have done a lot of things better in that series.
Rask’s last few years were up and down no doubt. His downs reminded the haters of the two-goals-in-17-second outburst from the Blackhawks in 2013, and the 2010 second-round collapse against the Flyers. His ups reminded the supporters of his 2013 playoff run as a whole and 2014 Vezina campaign.
But Rask’s postseason success since taking over the reigns as the full-time starter during the lockout-shortened 2013 season is among the best. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s look at those stats, shall we?
– Wins: 26 (tied for third among all goalies)
– Save percentage: .933 (first among goalies with at least 30 starts)
– Goals against average: 1.99 (one of only four goalies with a GAA under 2.00)
– Even strength save percentage: .933 (first)
– Power play save percentage: .870
The only stat that’s below average is the power play save percentage (an average of .875). Rask’s career postseason power play percentage since his first playoff appearance in 2009-10 is slightly above average at .881.
Stats don’t tell the whole story obviously. The seeing eye also plays a big role. That’s where the anti-Rask crowd will point out the 17-second ending against the Blackhawks in 2013 or the 3-0 collapse against the Flyers in 2010.
Now let’s look at the options behind Rask in those scenarios. One was a solid backup in Anton Khudobin in his first stint with the Bruins in 2013. Again, he’s just that — a backup. The other was Thomas, who battled through injuries all throughout the 2009-10 season. Without Rask, the injury-riddled Bruins wouldn’t have made the playoffs that spring, let alone advance to the second round.
2018 is different, however. General manager Don Sweeney has assembled one of the more talented Bruins squads in recent memory, including the 2011 Cup run that Peter Chiarelli assembled. Sure, Rask has benefitted from that talent, especially after only starting 54 games in the regular season — his fewest since becoming the full-time starter sans the 2013 lockout-shortened season.
The Rask narrative won’t end anytime soon. The haters will still point out 2010 and 2013 even if he wins his first Stanley Cup as a starter. The staunch defenders will point out his Game 4 outing and career stats.
If there’s one thing that both can agree on it’s this: Rask and his $7 million salary are staying put. The Bruins needed Rask to play like a $7 million goalie without Patrice Bergeron in Game 4. Rask did just that and has put the Bruins in position to clinch the series against the same Maple Leafs squad that drafted him in 2005 — and traded him to Boston for Andrew Raycroft.
“We’re going to prepare ourselves as good as we can to get the win. That’s the only mindset you can have, I guess,” Rask told reporters during his postgame press conference about the coveted fourth win. “Those last games, when you have a clinching game, they’re always the toughest ones. The other team is going to come out hard and do whatever they can to try to win.”
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