The Boston Bruins needed Tuukka Rask to do something good on Sunday, and as he has all year, the goaltender responded with a tremendous effort. That’s nothing new for the man who has played himself into the Vezina Trophy front-runner.
The award certainly feels like it’s Rask’s to lose after the Bruins netminder was incredible Sunday afternoon, as he made 49 saves (and three more in the shootout) as the B’s won a 4-3 shootout decision over the Philadelphia Flyers. The win was the 100th of Rask’s career.
Rask has certainly earned his lofty salary this season. The stat line alone is pretty ridiculous. Rask is now 34-15-5 on the season with a .931 save percentage (second in the league) as well as a 2.02 goals against average (third in the league). His seven shutouts lead all goalies, and his .943 even-strength save percentage is tops among all starting goaltenders.
Perhaps the strongest case to be made for Rask is how he’s able to elevate his team when it matters most. He does benefit from a defensive-minded system and defensive-minded roster, but then there are days like Sunday. With the Bruins playing their second game in two days and their third in four days, there was fatigue. That manifested itself most in the third period and overtime. The Flyers put 25 shots on goal during that 25-minute period, and Rask stopped all but one of those shots. The only goal he did allow came after an abysmal defensive display from the Bruins as Philadelphia tied the game with an extra attacker on the ice.
One of the biggest reasons the Bruins have been so good in back-to-back situations is because they’ve been able to lean on Rask. The B’s are now 13-2-0 in the second half of a back-to-back with Rask being the main reason for that. He is now 8-1-0 when starting the second half of the back-to-back with a .921 save percentage in those games. That’s while seeing more than 30 shots per game in those instances.
Oftentimes, awards are won down the stretch. No one has been better than Rask in the season’s final two months. Rask just finished a stellar March in which he went 9-1-1 with a ridiculous .943 save percentage. After a rough stretch in January, Rask is making every start count now and is somehow getting better as the season comes to a close. That should be enough to win him his first career Vezina, and it should also be enough to make the Bruins a Stanley Cup favorite as well.