By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask can’t beat the Montreal Canadiens.
Except when he can and does exactly that, it turns out.
In Montreal against the Black and Gold’s most hated rival, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s early announcement that it would be Jaroslav Halak on Friday against the Penguins and Rask against the Canadiens was met with some criticism from Boston fans.
“Why in the world would Halak go against the last-place Penguins while Rask got the nod against a divisional rival on the B’s heels? This would surely be another spot where Rask falls flat on his face. After all, this is the Canadiens, they’re his boogeyman, and Rask is a career-long choke artist that’s proven he’s not ready for ‘big spots.'”
Well, how does a 31-for-33 performance and his sixth straight win at the Bell Centre sound?
The 31-year-old’s night got off to an eventful start with 12 shots thrown his way, including a Grade-A chance from the Canadiens’ Jonathan Drouin with under seven minutes left in the first period. But with some obvious pre-scouting work done on the part of Rask and the Bruins, the chance was snuffed out without so much as a worry from the veteran netminder.
Even when Rask appeared in trouble after surrendering two goals in less than four minutes to let the Canadiens tie things up at 2-2 — the Canadiens also had all the game’s momentum at that point — Rask found a way to successfully buckle down and stop the next five shots thrown his way (including two deflections from in tight) en route to the victory.
With the win, Rask improved to 6-0-0 with a .953 save percentage in his last six starts in Montreal dating back to Dec. 2015. Rask has allowed two or fewer goals against in all but one of those six starts (a 27-save, four-round shootout win over the Habs), too, and now has wins in eight of his last 12 decisions against the Canadiens over the last four seasons overall.
He can't win in Montreal. Except when he does, and did, for the sixth time in a row.— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) November 25, 2018
The should-be death of the Tuukka Can’t Beat Montreal narrative becomes just the latest one slain by a motivated and recharged No. 40, and the first since the one just about everybody in town has elected to willingly forget.
For a goaltender that catches as much grief as Rask does about outdated and lazy storylines, it’s worth noting that the reality of Rask’s career tells you he’s already more than made up for the ‘he tapped out’ narrative born when Rask was too sick to play in Boston’s season finale against the Senators on the last day of the season in 2016 and still somehow brought up to this day. And when it’s brought up, it’s almost always ignored that when put in that same situation a year later for an underdog B’s team, Rask responded with a 4-0-1 record and .971 save percentage to finish the season en route to the Bruins clinching a postseason berth. Rask, of course, did that while playing through a torn groin that required offseason surgery.
Everybody’s quick to point towards Rask’s seemingly loosening grip on his starting job for the second season in a row, too, and how he’s a netminder that fails to handle pressure accordingly.
But there was significant pressure on Rask when he came close to losing his job to Anton Khudobin last season, and he responded to that pressure by finishing his season with wins in all but eight of his final 39 decisions of the season. Over that stretch, Rask posted the league’s sixth-best goals against average (.925 save percentage) and second-best goals against average (2.14). His even-strength save percentage, meanwhile, was the third-best in the NHL, at .936.
This could be the start of something similar for Rask, as the win in Montreal kept Rask’s point streak since returning from his leave of absence alive and well. In fact, since returning to the Bruins after his four-day sabbatical, Rask is 1-0-2 with a .938 save percentage. That .938 ranks as the 10th-best mark among goaltenders with at least 100 minutes in net since then (Halak is actually one of the nine goaltenders posting better numbers among that group, with a .971 save percentage).
You don’t need the numbers to know that the four-day break away from the team has done its part to get Rask’s mental state back to where it needs to be, though, as he’s been visibly as dialed in and focused as ever in his last three appearances.
And with a new pelt of a narrative on his wall thanks to the latest appearance.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.