BOSTON – Tuukka Rask dived left, dived right and scrambled in his crease during his toughest night of the playoffs.
When he finally had a chance to stand straight and skate slowly, it was to glide off the ice after a wild overtime loss.
The Bruins goalie, spectacular throughout the post-season, finally lost his touch against some of the NHL's top scorers as the Chicago Blackhawks beat Boston 6-5 in overtime, tying the Stanley Cup finals 2-2 on Wednesday night.
Rask allowed as many goals as he did in his previous four games combined. But there was trouble in front of him—from his defence that was slow to cover opponents, and from that traffic the Blackhawks used to screen him.
So Bruins coach Claude Julien wouldn't blame his goalie.
“I don't evaluate the players publicly here,” he said. “I look at our whole team and tell you our whole team was average. You can take what you want from that. I think we can be a lot better. We have an opportunity to be better next game. Hopefully, if anything, that makes us even hungrier.”
Rask will get his chance to rebound Saturday night in Chicago. After that, the best-of-seven series will return to Boston for Game 6 on Monday night.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago's top regular-season goal scorers, connected for the first time in the finals. In the previous round, the Bruins swept Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins as Rask allowed just two goals in four games.
Rask entered Wednesday's game with a 1.64 goals against average and 14-5 record in the playoffs. That was even better than Tim Thomas' sensational performance in goal for the Bruins in 2011, when they won their first Stanley Cup since 1972. But Thomas decided not to return this season and Rask, his backup two years ago, took over.
“He has been great the past few games, but if he doesn't get the support (it's) tough to stop pucks,” defenceman Dennis Seidenberg said. “It was a matter of us not playing the right way, nothing to do with what they did.”
On the winning goal 9:51 into overtime, Brent Seabrook took a shot from just inside the blue line on the right. Toews was the big body in front of Rask, who went into a split. The puck sailed over his right shoulder, and Toews—with a big smile on his face—headed back toward Seabrook as the celebration began.
“I saw it at the last second,” Rask said. “There was some traffic in front, just couldn't make a stretch.”
Rask had stopped 28 shots in Game 3, a 2-0 win for his third playoff shutout. He entered Game 4 with a streak of 122 minutes, 26 seconds without allowing a goal. It ended at 129:14 when Michal Handzus gave Chicago a 1-0 lead 6:48 into the game.
“They got a lot of shots through and a lot of second opportunities,” Rask said. “You let six goals as a goalie, you can't be satisfied, but as a team I thought it wasn't our best defensive game.”
The Bruins never led and had to open up their game to get back into it. It worked as they tied the game three times, the last on Johnny Boychuk's goal at 12:14 of the third period.
“It just felt like it was a run-and-gun kind of game,” Boychuk said. “We have to clean up our own end and not make the turnovers and play our kind of game, and when we do that it usually comes out in a positive way.”
On Wednesday night, Rask faced 47 shots while his teammates put 33 on Chicago's Corey Crawford.
“We had some breaks around the net, found some loose pucks. I thought we had way more traffic than the last game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “If (Rask) sees the puck, he's going to be almost impossible to beat.”
He didn't see the puck well enough. His defence didn't clear it far enough. And his offence didn't score enough.
“It's not fun, but we battled back many times, didn't make it easy on ourselves,” Rask said. “At the end of the day, it's a one-goal game. They get it. We just made it too tough on ourselves. Not our best night.”