By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Somehow, Tuukka Rask's already-bad Game 7 numbers got worse on Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs. His career save percentage in win-or-go-home playoff games dipped from .849 to .845. His goals against average hopped from 3.63 to 3.72.
But Rask's career numbers in Game 7's did improve in the one area that matters in the end, the win column. And after the Bruins completed another comeback en route to a 7-4 win in Game 7 over the Leafs, the team had his back.
Despite a first half to the game that had many on social media calling for him to get pulled, especially after he'd allowed the Leafs' fourth goal on just 11 shots at the time, the Bruins still stood by him once the game was over. Rask turned aside all eight Toronto shots in the Bruins' blazing third period, decisively outplaying Frederik Andersen (four third-period goals on 11 Bruins shots, mirroring Rask's start) in the series' decisive frame. And if head coach Bruce Cassidy's postgame remarks are any indication, anyone who's calling for Anton Khudobin to get the nod in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday may be disappointed.
"[Andersen] got hot there in the second period, so we stuck with it, but I don’t think there was a doubt that if we got ourselves back tied or in the lead, that Tuukka would be fine down the stretch," said Cassidy. "The guys have confidence in our goaltending; they have all year. Both goalies, obviously big moments. There’s a lot of pressure on them, and we saw it at both ends.
"At the end of the day, [Rask] found his game, and like I said, we picked each other up, and off we went."
Four goals on 11 shots speaks for itself, so it wasn't exactly out of line to suggest that Rask should be yanked for the second time in the series. But at the same time, as is often the case with Rask and these Bruins, it's hard to place the majority of the blame on the goalie.
With the exception of the Leafs' second goal by Patrick Marleau, Rask didn't exactly miss on routine saves on the Leafs' scores. But he didn't elevate himself to make the hard saves, either. He didn't Bail Out The Defense™ for the most part. So unfortunately for him, Rask was going to face the wrath of his sharpest critics after Game 7, regardless of the outcome.
Rask's own postgame comments will induce eye-rolls from those same critics.
"No I felt good from the start," said Rask when asked if he felt better as the game went along. "Made a save there on [Auston] Matthews right off the hop and then you get a tip goal. Then the second one was kind of one-timer read and then he ends up going back and I didn’t see the release. Just tough bounces – that breakaway goal just probably slid a couple inches by my skate there, third one went off a stick. Not a whole lot you can do there, you just try to battle and stay with it, eventually hope things will fall all in place."
Those detractors ought to be asked on Thursday, what do you want Rask to do about a deflection by Marleau as he's right on the doorstep? Or a screened wrist shot that deflected off Kevan Miller's stick? Or a breakaway by Kasperi Kapanen that happened due to an egregious turnover and failed backcheck by Brad Marchand?
The $7 million goalie should make the occasional hero save. Fine. And to be sure, the second Leafs goal really ought to be stopped.
This isn't to say that Rask was at his best on Wednesday night. He wasn't. This is to say that he's not about to be run out of town like some may desire. He's not about to find himself on the bench in Game 1 against Tampa - barring another gastrointestinal situation, of course.
Debate how much they meant it all you want, but David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron were similarly supportive of Rask when they spoke to reporters after the game.
"Tuukka's been great all season, in the playoffs as well," said Krejci. "For us as forwards and defensemen, we know what he's gonna do. He shuts the door. We have so much confidence in him. Our D's did a good job just blocking those guys on the outside. Anything Tuukka sees, he'll stop. He's been big. It doesn't really surprise any of us."
Said Bergeron: "We believe in him so much. He's always been a calm factor back there to make those key saves. There's never a doubt in our minds that he was gonna pull through."
At the end of the day, Rask out-played Andersen. Or Andersen "out-choked" Rask, depending on your perspective. But regardless of how you feel about his performance, any kind of rhetoric that's geared toward demoting Rask from the starting goalie spot may be a colossal waste of time.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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