Tuukka Rask had to be perfect for the Boston Bruins to even their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series at two games apiece, and the Vezina Trophy finalist answered the challenge.
The Bruins goaltender earned a 33-save shutout in Boston’s 1-0 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens in Thursday night’s Game 4 at Bell Centre. The victory helped the B’s avoid a 3-1 series deficit, which they have never overcome in their 90-year history.
Rask earns B's first playoff shutout vs. Habs since Andrew Raycroft on April 7, 2004 (3-0). Bruins' 11th lifetime playoff shutout vs MTL ^CS—
Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 09, 2014
The Canadiens made it difficult for the Bruins to score by blocking a ton of shots, killing penalties and not giving up many chances in the slot. The first goal was of the utmost importance, and Rask made sure Montreal didn’t open the scoring for the third time in four games.
“He was huge throughout the game, giving the energy and the confidence we needed,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron told reporters after the win.
Rask came into Game 4 with a .884 save percentage and a 2.97 goals against average in Round 2 after leading the playoffs in both statistical categories during the first round. He allowed three goals or more in three consecutive games to start the series, which happened only once during the regular season.
To his credit, Rask didn’t allow his recent struggles to negatively impact his game. There’s no question he looked more poised and comfortable in net in Game 4. Rask was well positioned, and his rebound control limited Montreal’s number of second chances.
It also helped that the Bruins defensemen did a tremendous job of clearing traffic from the front of the net, allowing Rask to see shots from the outside and the point. He stood tall on the penalty kill, too, stopping several quality scoring chances that the Canadiens created with the man advantage.
The real difference for Rask from Games 3 and 4 was that he made the big saves when Boston needed it most and bailed out his D-men after turnovers and sloppy puck management.
Rask failed to stop all the three breakaways he faced Tuesday night, allowing the Canadiens to build a commanding 3-0 lead. Stopping three breakaways is a lot to ask of a goalie, but the Bruins needed a clutch save in at least one of those situations and never got it. That wasn’t the case in Game 4 as Rask thwarted every scoring chance Montreal created, including a breakaway opportunity for captain Brian Gionta in the second period. He also made 14 third-period saves.
Rask has been under more pressure to dominate than normal because of the Bruins’ defensive breakdowns, poor first-period performances and the top line’s inability to generate much offense. It doesn’t help that his opposite number at the other end of the ice, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, has played brilliantly in each of the four games.
The Bruins will need Rask to play near or at the level he did Thursday to eliminate their rivals and earn a second consecutive appearance in the conference finals. These teams are so evenly matched, and we’re unlikely to see any more high-scoring games as players on both sides exhibit more caution with the puck and take less chances.
“It was important to get back in the series, but I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “We’ve played hard, but I’ve seen us play better. You hope the win here will help us get better and we’ll go from there.”
Game 5 is Saturday night at TD Garden.