BOSTON — We can stop with those silly questions now when it comes to Tuukka Rask.
Facing arguably the best offense in hockey Friday night, Rask turned in perhaps the greatest four-game stretch of his life with another shutout win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final. In the process, Rask hopefully quieted some of the nay-sayers when it comes to his ability to close out a series. Rask entered Friday’s game with just a 3-8 record in close-out games, the majority of those stemming from the 2010 second-round series with Philadelphia in which the Bruins coughed up a 3-0 series lead.
Maybe that’s what was motivating Rask. Maybe it was all the talk about how good the Penguins were offensively. Whatever it was, it worked for the goaltender, who allowed just two goals in four games against Pittsburgh.
“I felt pretty good throughout these games,” Rask said after the Game 4 win. “It helps when you get a good start. I thought we played a pretty good game. Game 1 there took the 1-0 lead in the series and felt good about ourselves and I think that helps the team confidence moving forward and then taking another one too, so I think we were really focused throughout the series. A couple bad periods, but that’s about it.”
With the Bruins moving onto the Stanley Cup Final, there’s no denying Rask is one of, if not the biggest reason why. He’s now 12-4 in these playoffs with a 1.75 goals against average and a league-leading .943 save percentage. That’s even more impressive when you consider he just spent the last four games fending off shots from the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The comparisons to Tim Thomas’ run on the way to the Stanley Cup in 2011 are only natural, and Rask is carrying the B’s in a similar way.
“I mean, you know, Timmy did it for us for numerous years,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “To a certain extent you got to hope that Tuukka learned from that as well, seized the moment when he had the chance. Although they’re different personalities, both have good personalities, don’t get me wrong, but different personalities, I think a lot of Timmy’s commitment and desire to be the best he could be every night has rubbed off on Tuukka. Tuukka has learned from that. Right now he’s in a zone that you hope he can hold on to. Without that kind of goaltending, you don’t get a chance at winning a Cup.”
The Bruins, no matter who they’ll face in the Cup Final, have a great chance of winning, based solely on the way Rask is playing. He admitted this is probably his best stretch of hockey, but it is also newfound territory for the goaltender. While he served as the backup in the 2011 run, this is Rask’s chance to step up and shine. It’s likely he’ll be ready for that.
The plan, in theory at least, is for Rask to not let the situation get too big.
“You can’t make too big of a deal out of it because it’s the same game,” Rask said. “It’s just the Stanley Cup is on the line, but it’s still the same game, and you have to stay focused and focus on your job.”
If he can do that, there’s a good chance the Bruins are just a couple of weeks from raising the Stanley Cup.