All the pressure will be on the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night, and no one will be feeling more heat than goalie Tuukka Rask.
The Bruins, who not long ago held a 3-1 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs, have been pushed to the brink by virtue of the Leafs’ impressive Game 6 win in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
Game 7 awaits Wednesday night at TD Garden, facing a scenario in which the Bruins have struggled with Rask between the pipes.
Rask’s Game 7 numbers, quite honestly, aren’t very impressive. Wednesday will be Rask’s fourth career Game 7. He’ll carry a 1-2 record into that game. He’s allowed at least three goals in each game, sporting a woeful .849 save percentage in those games.
Here’s how it went down in those three games.
2010 first round vs. Philadelphia — four goals on 27 shots, Flyers win 4-3
This one obviously wasn’t pretty. The Bruins came out on fire, scoring three goals in the game’s first 14 minutes, but that’s all they would get. That probably should have been enough, but some tough rebounds and worse luck allowed the Flyers to creep back into the game, eventually scoring four unanswered goals to not only erase a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 but also a 3-0 deficit in the series.
2013 first round vs. Toronto — four goals on 28 shots, Bruins win 5-4 in overtime
Had it not been for one of the best comebacks in playoff hockey history, the conversation centering around Rask and Game 7 performances would be even more dire. The Bruins were dead to rights after Toronto withstood an early Matt Bartkowski goal, only to bounce back and take a stranglehold of the game by way of a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead. Did Rask get much help while the Leafs built that lead? No. Could he have been better at the same time? Definitely.
Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Bruins staged a furious comeback. And we must mention that Rask made two sensational saves in overtime that allowed the Bruins to finish off the Leafs in overtime.
2014 second round vs. Montreal — three goals on 18 shots, Canadiens win 3-1
Again, not a game that’s going to make the Rask highlight reel, but putting all the blame on the goalie for this Game 7 loss would be foolhardy. The Bruins weren’t ready to play, and the team-wide effort was fairly atrocious. Pinning it all on Rask is unfair, but he certainly didn’t do much to bail out his teammates, either.
On the whole, Rask’s Game 7 history isn’t very impressive. On three occasions, he’s been tasked with helping the Bruins avoid elimination and came up short. But it’s disingenuous to suggest the fault of those shortcomings is Rask’s alone. However, it’s not unfair to expect Rask — who is the NHL’s third-highest-paid goalie — to come up big when the team needs him most.
(That Tim Thomas won all three Game 7s — including two shutouts — on the Bruins’ run to the Cup in 2011 doesn’t help Rask’s standing in the public eye, fair or not.)
So what does all of this mean for Wednesday night? Frankly, not a whole lot. It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen in a Game 7. But if Rask can’t improve on these numbers, it’s going to be hard for the Bruins to survive and advance.