The notion seems silly now but let’s remember that when the 2013 NHL playoffs began a month and a half ago, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Bruins was regarding the play of goaltender Tuukka Rask. Sure he was coming off a very good regular season (19-10-5, 2.00 GAA, .929 save percentage, 5 shutouts) but his playoff history was checkered at best, plus he hadn’t appeared in the postseason since 2010. Boston still has plenty of work to do as it holds a 2-1 lead over Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final but most can agree that if the B’s win twice more, Rask is a lock for the Conn Smythe Award (playoff MVP) on a team with other worthy candidates - Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
There is something ironic about Rask becoming arguably the best goaltender in the NHL when he wasn’t even nominated for the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) during the regular season. Regardless if the Bruins win this Cup or not, you can count on one thing: Rask, a restricted free agent in the prime of his career at age 26, is going to get paid this summer like the franchise goaltender he has proven to be. At the moment, Rask leads the NHL in all four major goaltending categories for the playoffs: wins (14), goals against average (1.64), save percentage (.946) and shutouts (3). By nature, he’s not the most vocal guy but he’s letting his play speak for itself. His teammates certainly appreciate his superhuman efforts.
“He was very strong (in Game 3),” said Chara. “He made some big saves especially when we needed it, so for sure it was a big performance by him.”
This run put together by the Bruins and especially Rask-who has the most important job on the team-gets more impressive by the day. In the past seven games, against the top two teams in the NHL-Pittsburgh and Chicago-he’s recorded all three of his shutouts. In three other games he allowed just one goal, the lone exception was the Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime win in Game 1. So he’s given up seven goals in the last seven games and keep in mind that includes six overtimes (2 vs. Penguins & 4 vs. Blackhawks).
Bruins head coach Claude Julien put it best when he talked about Rask following his latest masterpiece in Game 3: “He’s been focused since day one of the playoffs. You watch him on off days and he’s quiet, focused and calm. Right now all his energy is put towards the game, how he needs to get his rest and relax. When the game starts, he’s a focused individual.”
Pittsburgh only scored two goals in four games against Rask so even though Chicago doubled that in Game 1, they have only had one in the past two games. If he keeps playing like this, you can bet that the Blackhawks will eventually tap out like the Penguins did. To beat Rask and the Bruins (who have won seven of their last eight games) right now, you almost have to play a perfect game.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate