After John Tavares cut the Bruins to lead to one with his second period goal, the Maple Leafs had some life and gave the Bruins their best push of the night.
But after getting beat on the shot from Tavares, Tuukka Rask made sure that he wasn’t getting beat again.
As the temperature in the Bruins zone increased, Rask remained cool, coming up with some of the biggest saves of his night. Rask’s best period of the series came in the middle frame of Game 7 and it’s a big reason as to why the Bruins are kicking off round two Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“In the second period, we broke down. We had a tough time moving the puck out of our zone. He [Rask] was there for us,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We play for one and other. We tend to pick each other up, so he picked us up in the second when we were down.”
The Maple Leafs had 19 shot attempts in the middle period with 11 of those on net. Rask stopped 32 of 33 shots he saw in total.
Heading into their second straight playoff series with the Maple Leafs, much of the talk was around the goalie battle and how Rask needed to better than Frederick Andersen.
Not that Rask was bad in those games, but Andersen was the better of the two in the first four games of the series. But in Game 5, Rask did everything he could to steal the Bruins a win. Then, facing elimination in Game 6, Rask was excellent, and in Game 7, well, Rask was the Bruins best player.
“I think tonight he was our best player,” said Cassidy. “I thought we had a lot of guys play well, but he was our best player.”
With a red hot Auston Matthews in a prime scoring area early in the first, Rask was there to make the save on Matthews, setting the tone for what was to come from the Bruins goaltender.
“Yeah, the first one on Matthews kind of surprised me a bit, but it was lucky I had the five-hole covered," Rask said of his save on Matthews. "He got it off in a hurry, I didn’t even see the release, so I got the five-hole covered and made a save."
Playing in his fifth career Game 7, this one was by far Rask’s best. He entered Tuesday with a 2-2 record, 3.75 goals-against average and a .845 save percentage in those four career Game 7's.
With the offseason signing of Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins were aiming to reduce Rask’s regular season workload. The 45 starts he made was Rask’s lowest since starting 34 times in the lockout shortened 2013 season.
A fresh Rask was a huge benefit for the Bruins.
“We limited his workload this year, and you wonder how it’s going to affect the playoffs, and I think tonight hopefully he got some residual effect from that where he was fresh the last couple of games, playing every second night,” said Cassidy. “It pays off and hopefully even more going forward.”
How well Rask has played in these last three playoff games looks very much like the Rask that we saw earn at least a point in 13 straight games from the end of December through the beginning of March.
“I personally felt good from the start of the series. I felt pretty good all year, obviously the workload hasn’t been too much so I feel fresh,” said Rask. “It’s all about feeling confident, preparing yourself the right way, trusting your teammates. We battled hard all year and it showed again today.”
There seems to be a love/hate relationship in Boston between its fans and Rask, something that still baffles me. Cassidy hopes between what he did in the series and more specifically in Game 7, that he’s converted some of those that lean towards the hate part of the love/hate relationship.
“Well, hopefully he’s converted a few. I think in sports you have that a lot. I’m a sports fan, other sports, and I have it with certain players with teams I root for,” added Cassidy. “I hope fans recognize what he did tonight. I think you have to as a fan acknowledge when a player plays well. I know in this town when you don’t you hear about it. That’s fine too. Tonight, he played well, and hopefully the people get behind him and acknowledge that.”
Inside the Bruins dressing room, there’s no love/hate relationship there. The Bruins appreciate what the goalie brings to the table.
“Yeah, he made some big saves. Definitely need that from our goalie,” said captain Zdeno Chara. “At the crucial times he made some big saves and kept us, you know, ahead.”
“Tuukka played unbelievable for us tonight, it was a good start for us and something that we needed and helped us get going,” said Marcus Johansson who scored his first goal of the series in Game 7.
If the Bruins are going to continue their playoff success, Rask is going to once again be front and center.