After arguably his most tumultuous regular season to date, Tuukka Rask has put doubters to shame in the 2019 postseason.
Statistically Rask did not have a lights out season and was a lightning rod for Bruins fans when the team was playing poorly. Fold in a backup goalie playing very well in Jaro Halak and the Rask haters had plenty of fodder for their favorite whipping boy.
Fast forward to April.
There’s no more room for reservation when it comes to No. 40.
“He’s just in the zone right now, he’s confident,” veteran teammate Brad Marchand said. “Just let him keep doing his thing and giving us an opportunity to win every game. He’s why we are where we are.”
In the postseason so far, Rask has a .939 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average. Aside from the numbers, he has kept the Bruins in games when the skaters haven’t played their best hockey.
For example, in game three against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Boston came out flat. Rask was peppered with 20 shots in the first period and single-handedly kept his team above water by saving every single one of them.
The Bruins were called for five penalties in the first period, giving the Hurricanes plenty of opportunities to try and dent Rask.
“[Rask] was our best penalty killer,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. “What it does for the team is it allows you to take a deep breath knowing we haven’t played our best, but it’s 0-0.”
During one of Carolina’s power plays, Rask made a series of four unbelievable saves worthy of erasing any lingering skepticism about whether or not he has what it takes to finally get this team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I might have had my eyes closed for three of them, but he’s been dialed in since we started [the playoffs],” Cassidy said. “He really hasn’t had a poor night. He’s had a couple that were been above average and the rest have been very good. The first period [Tuesday] was excellent.”
Its not just fans that are breathing easy knowing there’s a brick wall in net. Rask’s teammates are extremely thankful for their goalie’s ability to perform at the highest level when it matters the most.
“It’s such a calming presence for us,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “Obviously they came out and they played real hard and we gave up some more scoring chances than we would’ve liked, but Tuukka stood tall for us and allowed us to come in at intermission at 0-0 and reset.”
When it comes to Rask himself, he says he feels just as confident in his game this postseason as he has in all the others he’s played in. This time around, he credits the outstanding play to knowing what to expect.
“I think every year going into the playoffs I’ve felt good,” Rask said. “When you’re seeing the puck, you feel comfortable. It’s about timing, patience and all that. I think experience helps that, so you just try to stay mentally focused and sharp night in and night out and not get rattled about anything.
The Bruins’ goaltender also notes that it’s a lot easier to be on top of your game when the camaraderie in the locker room is at an all time high.
“We have such a tight group of guys. We play for each other,” he said. “Everything goes hand in hand. I feel like this year we really have each other’s backs. We’ve been in some tight games, but then our depth kicks in and we score goals and take over the game.”
Boston has ridden that chemistry all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where it now sits just one win away from a Stanley Cup Final berth.
And Tuukka Rask is a big reason why.
“He’s one of the best,” Sean Kuraly said. “He’s really good. I don’t know what else to say.”