The Pittsburgh Penguins were on a roll, and they were most definitely picked by many as the team which would represent the Eastern Conference in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
Until they ran into Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins express, that is. If there was one determining factor in the shocking sweep against the Penguins, it was the goaltending of the 26-year-old from Finland. Rask limited the offensive powerhouse to two goals in four games, shutting them out twice.
Now the question is, can he continue his dominance against the Chicago Blackhawks?
When the Bruins last hoisted Lord Stanley in the spring of 2011, Rask watched the Tim Thomas’ show from the bench as his backup. Nevertheless, the former 2005 pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs would become the second Finnish netminder to have his name etched on the cup. Antti Niemi did it the previous year with the Blackhawks.
Rask has tended the Boston net in the shadow of Thomas for most of his career in Beantown. However, prior to the start of the lockout, the Bruins named him the club’s starter after re-signing him to a one-year deal for $3.5 million in June. With another work stoppage in place, Rask headed overseas to the Czech Republic to keep his skills sharp.
In February, a few weeks after the beginning of the shortened season, Thomas’ rights were traded to the New York Islanders.
With his shadow gone, Rask went 19-10-5 in 36 games for the Northeast Division champions with a 2.00 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. To the surprise of many, Rask was not named as one of the finalists for this year’s Vezina Trophy.
In 16 outings in the playoffs, Rask is 12-4 with two shut outs. His goals against average is an impressive 1.75 and his save percentage is .943. He and the Bruins seemed to find new life after being just minutes away from elimination in the first round, coming from a three-goal deficit late in the third period to send the Maple Leafs packing. He seemed shaky at times against the New York Rangers, but became a brick wall when he faced the boys from the Steel City.
Making their second appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in three years, the Bruins drew first blood with Milan Lucic netting one in the first and adding another in the second for a two-goal lead. The breathing room did not last long, as rookie Brandon Saad scored his first of the playoffs to close the lead to one.
Rask and Corey Crawford both traded saves at opposite ends of the ice. In the end, after three grueling overtime periods, the Blackhawks stole Game 1 on a deflection goal by Andrew Shaw.