The Boston Bruins eventually earned their Game-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night. But for at least 20 minutes, it was just the Boston Bruin earning it. Goaltender Tuukka Rask stood on his head to weather a 20-shot assault from the home squad in the first period, with Boston putting six pucks on Carolina’s net. The Bruins stormed back to outshoot the Canes 18-6 in the second and wound up winning 2-1, but Rask was clearly the deciding factor.
It was hardly a new story in these 2019 playoffs. Rask has been remarkably consistent throughout. He’s allowed more than three goals in a start once, he’s posted a .906 save percentage or higher in all 16 games, and he’s been pulled for backup Jaroslav Halak zero times. Rask leads all post-season goalies in SP (.939) and goals-against average (1.96). Among 17 netminders playing 100 or more minutes at 5-on-5 this post-season, he’s third in high-danger SP (.917), albeit the Bruins’ defense has helped him face the third-fewest high-danger shots per 60 minutes.
We’re seeing the best version of Rask in years. If the playoffs ended today, he’d have as strong a claim to the Conn Smythe Trophy as anyone. If he adds that honor and a Stanley Cup to a resume already including a Vezina Trophy, a first-team all-star selection and the fourth-highest career SP in NHL history, we’re looking at a pretty strong Hall of Fame case in the making.
So what’s been the key to Rask’s outstanding post-season? One place to look is his regular-season workload. His 45 starts made up 54.9 percent of Boston’s schedule, giving him his smallest chunk of the goaltending pie since 2011-12, when he was Tim Thomas’ backup. Rask had developed a reputation for fading late in seasons, with a career SP 10 points lower after the all-star break than before it. Even with a smaller workload this season, the pattern rang true, as he slipped to just .903 after the all-star break. Perhaps managing the reps messed with his rhythm, but it has paid Boston back this post-season.
If the Bruins go on to win the Cup, Rask will be the seventh consecutive starting goalie to win a championship after appearing in fewer than 60 regular-season games. Here are the regular-season games for the past 10 Cup-winning No. 1 netminders:
Braden Holtby, 59
Matt Murray, 49
Matt Murray, 44 (AHL/NHL)
Corey Crawford, 57
Jonathan Quick, 49
Corey Crawford, 30 (lockout, pro-rates to 51)
Jonathan Quick, 69
Tim Thomas, 57
Antti Niemi, 39
Marc-Andre Fleury, 62
So just two of the past 10 Stanley Cup winning goalies – and none of the past six – hit the 60-game mark in the regular season. The only 60-game goalie still alive in the 2018-19 playoffs is San Jose’s Martin Jones, whose .905 SP suggests his team is winning in spite of him, not because of him.
The Bruins are the clear Stanley Cup frontrunners now, up 3-0 on the Hurricanes. If they go on to win the Cup with Rask leading the way, he’ll further cement the idea that resting star goalies – and pairing them with high-end backup options – can pay you back later in a season.
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