It came last Friday night, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bruins had the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins down 3-0, and were leading 1-0 as the minutes ticked down in what became the final game of the series. The last minute was an absolute flurry, where even defenseman Zdeno Chara tallied a save. However, it was the last shot of the game — off the stick of Jarome Iginla no less — which was the most significant. Rask caught the puck with his glove as the clock hit zero and raised his fist high, a final shot to a Penguins team that just couldn’t solve him. It was as if to say, “not today.”
Not only did Rask’s pure emotion and triumph come out in this one gesture, you couldn’t help but think the celebration was also a way of telling any doubters he may have had left that their skepticism is now pointless.
How could you still think Boston’s starting goalie has anything to prove anymore? What else would he need to do? Yes, he still has four wins to go before he can finally solidify his place in Bruins history. But still, stats don’t lie. And Rask’s numbers have been absolutely astounding. Its tough to question a goalie who’s currently posting a GAA of 1.75 and an NHL best .943 save percentage.
In the first series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins net minder played well. He wasn’t lights out, but he kept Boston in every game. At this point, though, nobody was putting him first on their list of Conn Smythe candidates.
As the Bruins took on the New York Rangers, Rask began to look sharper with every game. Of course, one oopsie-daisy tumble in Game 4 and every single critic came out of the woodwork. He wasn’t clutch anymore; he was choking all over again. The fans were about to relive the 2010 nightmare against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Man, does it sound utterly idiotic reading these things now or what? Jest if you will, but this was the mindset of many Bruins fans the morning after the Rangers notched their first win of the series. Unfortunately, it’s the type of stigma that will follow you wherever you go when you’re a part of a 3-0 collapse, regardless of how much time has passed.
Sure enough, Rask came back in Game 5 against New York and shut the door, allowing just one well-screened goal. However, his biggest test awaited him in the Eastern Conference Finals. How would he handle the limitless talent of Pittsburgh? How many goals would he allow from superstars Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin?
Yet again, the mild-mannered Finn gets the last laugh.
A Penguins team who was scoring at an alarming rate coming into the series left it only netting two goals. He faced 136 shots in total, stopping 134 of them. This includes a Game 3 double overtime thriller where he allowed one goal on 53 shots. Oh, Crosby and Malkin? Not one single point.
Sorry, I don’t care what glaring issues you can still find with Rask. He just completely shut down an all-world roster. Its time to give the man his due credit: he is indeed a franchise goalie.
Rask was always going to have question marks hanging around him. This is what happens when you’re next in line after Tim Thomas, who will always be remembered in Boston for his incredible performance during the 2011 Cup run.
Is Rask looking better than Thomas during his Conn Smythe campaign? It’s closer than you might think. However, Thomas has one thing that Rask doesn’t; the right to say he was the starting goalie on a championship team.
He’s got four wins to go, but you can no longer question whether or not Rask is capable of playing out of his mind come postseason. If you’re still doubting, you’re clearly not watching.