ST. LOUIS – In the Boston Bruins’ visiting dressing room in Enterprise Center, there’s a photo beside Tuukka Rask’s stall from the Stanley Cup celebration in 2011. It shows Rask, still in full equipment with his mouth agape, eagerly awaiting a shot of champagne from the Cup. It’s a photo Rask knows very well. “I have the same one at home in my man cave,” he said.
Largely because of the play of their Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, the Bruins are two wins away from recreating that photographic memory. And if they do, there’s an almost certain chance Rask will add a Conn Smythe Trophy to his collection. With his next point, Brad Marchand will take over the playoff scoring lead. Torey Krug has been a beast in the Stanley Cup final and is the evil genius behind their lethal power play. But the constant this spring has been Rask, who has made saves both of the routine and spectacular variety. He goes into Game 4 Monday night with a .939 save percentage and a 1.91 goals-against average and is providing the kind of dialed-in goaltending a team needs to win a Stanley Cup.
All anyone talks about when it comes to Rask these days is his remarkable poise. And they’re right. Part of the reason why he’s so effective is that he makes difficult saves routine because of superior positioning. But it’s more than that. Rask, who turned 32 in March, is a picture of calm. In this Stanley Cup final, Rask has endured some aggressive play by Blues forwards and kept his cool. He was bumped a couple of times in Game 3 by David Perron and even had words with him, smiling all the while through his mask. Rask said after the game that Perron accused him of diving. That’s not to say the competitive fires aren’t scorching in him, but he has certainly become better at handling his emotions.
Certainly a lot better than 2009 when he gave up what he thought were two controversial goals during a shootout with the Providence Bruins, then responded by slamming his stick against the boards and throwing it helicopter-style across the ice, then tossing a milk crate on the ice on his way down the tunnel.
“I think he’s always had composure,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “Just back when he was younger, like a lot of guys, his focus wasn’t what it is now. He had one incident, it’s a beauty. I don’t think it rattles him when I bring it up. I hope it doesn’t. I don’t want to get in my own goalie’s head.”
That’s also not to say that Rask is now immune to the occasional outburst. In the Bruins' series last spring against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rask lost a skate blade and tried to alert the officials, but not before Mikhail Sergachev scored a goal. Rask was livid, showing the officials the skate blade before throwing it in their direction. In the second round of this year’s playoffs against Columbus, the Blue Jackets scored a goal in Game 4 that counted despite the fact that the puck hit the netting behind the Bruins’ goal. Rask was asked after the game whether he was aware at the time that the play should have been blown dead. “Next thing I see it’s on the left side and I’m scrambling and I’m on my ass and it’s in the net,” Rask said after the game. “If I saw it, I probably would have slammed my stick and chased the refs, so it was probably better that I didn’t see it.”
The road to this point has been a long and winding one for the Bruins. At one point during the series against the Blue Jackets, it almost looked as though they had run out of gas. But amid the peaks and valleys, Rask has been a model of consistency. Only once in 20 playoff games this spring, in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game in which he faced 42 shots, has he allowed more than three goals against. In fact, it’s hard to remember a sub-par outing he has had this spring.
“He’s dialed in this playoff,” Cassidy said. “He knows what’s at stake. He won one (Stanley Cup) as a backup and lost one as a starter against the Blackhawks and he wants to flip the script this time around.”
Now Rask is two wins away from doing just that, and getting another memento for his man cave.
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