BOSTON — Tuukka Rask was the best and most consistent goaltender in the NHL during the regular season, and fortunately for the Bruins, he’s been every bit as good in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Rask gave up one goal in each of the first two games played in Boston, and his 1.02 goals against average is the best among goalies who’ve made at least two appearances in the opening round. He also leads the playoff field with a .966 save percentage, which includes a league-best .963 save percentage at even strength.
“Game 1, I think both teams played pretty solid defense,” Rask said after his team evened the series at one game apiece with a 4-1 victory Sunday afternoon. “(In Game 2), we crashed the net a lot and got rewarded.
“I think from our standpoint, defensively we played a really solid first two periods — killed a lot of penalties. And then once we got that 4-1 lead, we kind of let up a little bit and gave them that speed and some chances. For the most part, I think our defense has been tremendous throughout these two games.”
The Bruins’ penalty kill has been a huge factor in the series. The B’s are a perfect 6-for-6 when short-handed, and the Red Wings registered just three shots on goal during two power-play opportunities in Game 2.
“We have good sticks, we’re taking care of the middle and trying not to give them those seam passes, and then if they get shots, we’re trying to bounce on the loose pucks and win puck battles,” Rask said of his team’s fantastic penalty killing. “I think everything has been pretty strong — the forecheck and stuff like that.
“We take a lot of pride in our penalty kill, and so far it’s been working. It’s a huge thing throughout the season, and especially in the playoffs, you need to have good special teams in order to move forward.”
Goaltending was one of the major advantages Boston had over Detroit going into this series, and nothing in the first two games has changed that. Rask has outplayed Jimmy Howard, and he looks more comfortable in pressure situations and when handling the puck outside the crease.
Howard gave up four goals in Game 2, the first of which came off a horrendous giveaway from the Detroit goaltender while coming way out of his net to play the puck. Two of the other goals also were his fault. Milan Lucic’s tally at the end of the second period, which gave the Bruins much-needed confidence after the Red Wings were dominating play, should have been saved. Zdeno Chara’s third-period power-play goal that increased the B’s lead to 4-1 happened because Howard didn’t get his stick on the ice to protect the five-hole.
If the Bruins continue to receive stellar performances from Rask, they won’t need seven games to eliminate the Red Wings. Detroit doesn’t have the scoring depth to consistently tally three or four goals against an elite goaltender who’s protected by a talented and deep group of defensemen.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@joegiza