BOSTON — Tuukka Rask’s struggles against the rival Montreal Canadiens need to end soon if the Bruins are going to reach the Eastern Conference finals in back-to-back seasons.
The 27-year-old goaltender is 3-10-3 with a 2.63 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in 17 career appearances versus Montreal.
“I’ve had some tough games against (the Canadiens), but I’ve had some good games against them too,” Rask said after Wednesday’s practice at TD Garden. “I just haven’t gotten the wins…We lose games 2-1, 3-2, it happens. Maybe we haven’t been at our best against them in the past, but I think this year we got better and better.”
“I always like playing (at the Bell Centre). As a team we always get caught in that hype… They have a tendency to get the power plays, and if they get the early lead, you’re pretty much screwed. If you survive that, you’re in good shape. I always like the atmosphere there despite my record.”
To be fair, Rask performed much better against the Habs this season compared to previous years. He was 1-2-1, but also posted an impressive .932 save percentage and a 1.92 GAA. Boston’s offense scored a combined four goals in Rask’s three losses to Montreal.
He also played arguably the best hockey of his postseason career in the Bruins’ first-round series victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Rask enters the conference semifinals as the playoff leader in GAA (1.02), save percentage (.961) and even-strength save percentage (.966). His .913 save percentage on the penalty kill is the fourth-best among goalies who’ve faced 20-plus shots. When the Bruins needed Rask to be their best player against the Red Wings, he answered the challenge with a plethora of amazing saves, including a breakaway stop on Justin Abdelkader in overtime of Game 4.
Both goaltenders are under tremendous pressure in this series.
Rask needs to prove he can overcome his struggles against the Canadiens and win important games in front of a raucous Bell Centre crowd. Montreal’s Carey Price has to show his success at the Olympics was not a product of the all-star team in front of him and that he’s capable of leading the Habs to the conference finals for the first time in his career. In a matchup of two evenly-matched teams with good special teams, goaltending likely will be the difference in the outcome.
“It doesn’t matter to me who’s in the other (net),” Rask said of his showdown with Price. “It’s more of a team thing for us. He’s a great goalie obviously, won the gold (at the Olympics) and had a great season. So we need to figure him out and get some pucks by him. From my standpoint it doesn’t matter. I just try to do the same thing as him: stop the puck.”
Price is 17-8-3 with a 2.50 GAA and a .919 save percentage in his career against the Bruins. He posted a .934 save percentage, a 2.10 GAA and a Game 1 shutout in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs versus Boston, which is the only playoff series against the Original Six club in his career.
“He’s definitely a high-caliber goaltender,” B’s winger Milan Lucic said Wednesday. “He showed in the Olympics that he can step up and play huge in big games. He was a real big factor in 2011 going all the way to overtime of Game 7. We have to try to get pucks on net, getting traffic, pouncing on rebounds and second opportunities.”
The first step for Rask is protecting the TD Garden ice, where Montreal was 2-0 in the regular season. That challenge begins Thursday night.