There was a lot of talk entering the Bruins’ first-round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs about the Phil Kessel trade that played a huge role in molding the future of both franchises. Rightfully so, as how the deal has impacted the parties involved makes for fascinating stuff and fun banter.
However, the deal that wasn’t mentioned as much might be the one that plays the biggest role in the series. It certainly did in Game 3.
That deal was the one that brought Tuukka Rask to Boston in 2006 in exchange for Andrew Raycroft. While Raycroft didn’t do much of anything after leaving Boston, Rask has evolved into the Bruins’ No. 1 goaltender. On Monday night in Toronto, Rask turned in his finest performance as an NHL netminder.
The Finnish goalie made 46 saves in a 5-2 Bruins win, a pivotal Game 3 in front of a rabid Toronto crowd that gave the Bruins the 2-1 series lead. Rask was good from the get-go, making save after save, and he turned his game on in a big way in the third period. Rask stopped 18 of the 19 shots he saw in the final period, and that made the difference as he and the Bruins held off a furious push from a fired-up Toronto team.
“He was good, he was solid,” Claude Julien said. “You need good goaltending in the playoffs. They came out in the third, a desperate team down 4-1, and we knew they were going to throw everything at us. We needed good goaltending and we tried to minimize the scoring chances and be patient.”
That desperation was felt immediately once the third period began. Kessel ended up scoring his second goal of the series just 47 seconds into the final frame, pulling the Leafs within two and sending the Air Canada Centre into a frenzy.
“That early goal, that power-play goal beginning of the third certainly gave them some life and there’s no, doubt they picked up their game from that point,” Julien said.
Fortunately for the Bruins, so did Rask. The Boston goaltender stopped everything he saw from that point on, including 12 saves in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Rask was also big in the first period when he stopped all 13 shots the Leafs fired at him. That was especially important given the crazy atmosphere inside the building where Leafs fans saw playoff hockey for the first time since 2004. Rask did all he could to take the crowd out of the game, and he was a big reason why Boston was able to weather the early storm and take a 1-0 lead to the room after the first period.
“It was great,” he said of the atmosphere. “Really loud right before the game, and I’ve always liked playing here. It’s a great rink and great fans, and I really loved [this game].”
The numbers certainly back up Rask’s affection for the ACC. He’s now 5-1-0 in his career in Toronto with a 1.38 goals against average and a .956 save percentage.
Much has been made about Rask’s potential playoff performance, the way he struggled in his only other playoff appearance back in 2010. He was between the pipes that spring when the Bruins saw a 3-0 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 against Philadelphia evaporate. However, Rask has shown no signs of any sort of carry-over effect. That past is clearly the past for Rask, and he’s been one of the Bruins’ best players over the last two or three weeks dating back to the end of the regular season.
Having a hot goaltender is arguably the biggest ingredient to a Stanley Cup run, and if Rask’s performance Monday is any indication, the Bruins may be poised for another deep Cup push.