Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 3. Trying to put the events of Wednesday night’s thriller in perspective less than an hour after its conclusion is a fool’s errand, but hey – that’s never stopped me before!
I’ll remember Game 4 of the Bruins-Maple Leafs first round playoff series for a variety of reasons:
1. NESN play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards telling audiences we were watching a “classic” early in the second period, then time and time again throughout the game (not that he was wrong, but pump the breaks, Jack).
2. The fierce Toronto crowd ready to explode at nearly every turn. Talk about hostile territory. Great atmosphere, which, naturally, makes the positive result for Boston that much more impressive.
3. The frustrating lack of production from Tyler Seguin (no points in four games is fine against the likes of the Leafs, but the B’s will need something – anything – from The Wunderkind if they hope to make a deep run this postseason).
4. Wondering if Milan Lucic finally played himself into shape. Professional athletes, everybody!
5. And, of course, David Krejci’s hat trick, including his game-winning goal in overtime – just sublime stuff from a guy we’ve praised, given up on, and praised again - mind you, all in the span of two years.
But more than anything else, Game 4 marked “Tuukka Time” becoming Tuukka’s Time. I wrote about the dilemma facing the 26-year-old back in March: that nothing he could accomplish in the shortened regular season truly mattered. No matter what Rask did, he’d be judged for what he would do come May and playoff time. A thankless position. Nonetheless, by all accounts, Rask had a terrific year, even causing uproar when the league’s GMs collectively left Rask off the list of finalists for the Vezina Trophy.
(Quick Aside: Compared to the three Vezina finalists, Rask was tied with the best Goals Against Average, recorded the most shutouts, and allowed the least amount of goals. He may not sit at the head of the table, but basic logic suggests he should be at least invited to the dinner party, right?
But given the condensed schedule, it appears GMs put a premium on games played, which drastically hurt Rask. Granted, Sergei Bobrovsky only played two more games, but his numbers were a tad better than Rask’s; meanwhile the other two finalists, Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi, were workhorses. So look, I get it: Around these parts this is an unpopular opinion, but the GMs got it right. Rask didn’t appear in 12 games, that’s 25 percent of the shortened 48 game season. Certainly not insignificant.)
From a micro perspective, Wednesday night marked the transition from Biding Time to Tuukka’s Time. The regular season is over, and from a larger viewpoint, Game 4 should instill confidence in the team that they are capable of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup this season, largely because of Rask. You see, hockey is unlike other sports. Sometimes, it’s not about who has the better team, it’s about who wants it more, who gets the lucky bounce, and who chooses to endure.
Rask owned all of these characteristics (yes, even luck) and more on Wednesday night.
After falling behind, 2-0, the B’s stormed back in the second period to tie the game, eventually taking a brief lead before Toronto evened things up at three goals apiece. The latter stages of the third period and into overtime, when the Bruins looked gassed and resigned to retreating back to Boston with the series evened 2-2, Rask had other ideas. He was the rock that wouldn’t let Boston falter.
The Leafs were feeding off the raging crowd: hitting harder, skating faster, and relentlessly kept coming and coming. Everyone’s heart was racing; everyone except Tuukka’s that is. Rask stood on his head, stopping shot after shot (after shot), totaling 48 saves (a career-high in the playoffs). By now, you know how the story ends: Krejci took care of the rest with a goal on an odd-man rush, reminiscent of the same timely offense the B’s produced during their memorable 2011 Stanley Cup run, and giving Boston a comfortable 3-1 series lead, with a chance to advance with a victory Game 5 in Boston Friday night, in the process.
Can Tuukka do it again? I don’t know. Time will tell. But now, we do know he can do it. And unlike the regular season for Rask, his performance isn’t simply monitored and viewed as a precursor to a larger journey; it is directly correlated to the final destination. Tuukka Time is Tuukka Time.
Follow Ryan Hadfield on Twitter @Hadfield__