BUFFALO — When Tuukka Rask made a Superman-style save on Sabres forward Mike Grier 8:57 into the third period of the Bruins' 3-2 double-overtime win in Game 4, preserving what was then a 2-2 tie, the TD Garden erupted in awestruck excitement. The Sabres, whether they admitted it or not, felt snakebitten.
The Bruins had fought back from a 2-0 third-period deficit and a goal at that point would have been crushing to the Black and Gold. It would have given the Sabres back not only the lead but also, more importantly, the momentum. But even when he looked a bit out of position, the man now known as "Tuukkool" Rask was there to make the stop — and his teammates and coach wouldn't have expected anything less.
"That's just Tuukka," head coach Claude Julien said. "He's been like that since he's been with us. He's just gotten better with the opportunities he's been given. And he's very cool. He's very confident and technically very sound. All that put together makes for a great goaltender."
Julien also credited Rask's goalie partner, Tim Thomas, for helping Rask blossom.
"[Rask's] had the opportunity to work with Timmy this year and gave us the opportunity to be patient with him. Right now, it's paid dividends."
The double-overtime win on Wednesday was Rask's first Stanley Cup playoff overtime experience. But just like the Finnish rookie has dealt with the playoffs and all of his other professional firsts, he took it in stride.
"It could have been shorter. I don't know what to say," Rask said. "It was really exciting, I thought both teams had chances there, but by that point, it's anybody's game. Everybody's so tired that one little play makes a huge difference and [Thursday night] we got the break."
His save-of-the-year candidate on Grier was actually out of character for the usually positionally sound netminder. In fact, on that save, he looked more like Thomas, who is known for more acrobatic saves. So maybe Julien is right that some of Thomas' attributes have rubbed off on his new No. 1.
"I was just trying to get set [on the player with the puck]. And then I realized he's going to pass, and I just threw everything I had to try and make that save," Rask recounted. "And sometimes you make those desperation saves, and at least if you give an effort, sometimes you get rewarded."
But there was never doubt from his teammates that he would make that save and stop anything else that came at him late in Game 4. In fact, in a positive way, Rask is almost an afterthought for the Bruins on the ice. They don't worry about his performance and that speaks volumes, especially considering his rookie status.
"I knew he was good from what I heard, but I never imagined this," veteran forward Mark Recchi said. "But now it's almost understood or just accepted that Tuukka will do his job, and we just need to do ours. To say that for a 23-year-old goalie is pretty amazing. And to think he's only going to get better is scary for the rest of the league."
On Friday night, Rask will be introduced to another first, as he and his teammates play in a possible series-clinching Game 5 at Buffalo. Chances are, Rask will be calm and collected, just going about his business. There's a reason they call him "Tuukkool."
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