By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Is it fair to say that Bruins-Leafs Game 7 came down to the goalies? Because Boston’s guy played well and Toronto’s did not.
In fact, Tuukka Rask may have been the best player on the ice. The Bruins netminder turned away 32 of 33 Maple Leafs shots in a 5-1 win at TD Garden, propelling the B’s to the second round where they will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 on Thursday.
An early stop on Auston Matthews set the tone. The Leafs star center ran on a heater with five goals from Games 3-6, but came up empty on Tuesday. The Bruins did a good job limiting his cross-ice one-timer chances that had killed them earlier in the series. But when he did get his chance, Rask was there to stuff him.
Tuukka Rask came to play. What a save on Auston Matthews pic.twitter.com/B95JDF4kRL— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) April 23, 2019
“Yeah, the first one on Matthews kind of surprised me a bit, but it was lucky I had the five-hole covered,” Rask said. “He got it off in a hurry, I didn’t even see the release, so I got the five-hole covered and made a save.”
In the third period, he refused to let the Leafs answer after Sean Kuraly scored to put the Bruins back up two.
Rask with a huge save as Hyman nearly finishes the tic-tac-toe play pic.twitter.com/qFmqBCdRqT— Flintor (@TheFlintor) April 24, 2019
And while the Leafs were sloppier than normal with their puck movement and shot selection on offense, 32 saves is 32 saves. To Bruce Cassidy, it was good enough for Team MVP honors for a goalie who played less in the regular season so he can show more in the playoffs.
“We limited [Rask’s] workload this year, and you wonder how it’s going to affect the playoffs, and I think tonight hopefully he got some residual effect from that where he was fresh the last couple of games, playing every second night,” Cassidy said. “It pays off and hopefully even more going forward. I think tonight he was our best player tonight. I thought we had a lot of guys play well, but he was our best player.”
Meanwhile, at the other end…
Frederik Andersen is your likely scapegoat in Toronto on Wednesday and beyond, as all three goals appeared stoppable for the Toronto goaltender. All three scores were earned, though, as they began with tenacious forechecking in the Leafs zone. Joakim Nordstrom was strong on the puck all night when given the opportunity, and was rewarded for his effort when he threw a puck on Andersen’s glove and it managed to squeak through.
“I was just throwing it in there, you never know,” Nordstrom said. “Our focus before the game was just to throw pucks at net, you never know maybe you get a bounce, maybe you sneak one in, so I was a little bit surprised I guess.”
It felt like all of their scores snuck in. But they’ll take it. Throwing it at the net and beating a shaky Andersen is an infinitely better result than going for an extra pass and turning the puck over.
Marcus Johansson also bore the fruits of his line’s labors. Karson Kuhlman forced a turnover behind the net and Johansson simply scooped it up, circled around and fired it through traffic. Andersen might have never seen the puck.
And finally, Kuraly with the death knell for the Leafs. Taking advantage of a Noel Acciari takeaway in the neutral zone, Kuraly snaked through the Toronto defense and fired a seemingly innocent wrister toward Andersen. But on a night like this – with Julian Edelman chugging a beer and Justin Bieber bringing voodoo bad luck and the TD Garden crowd constantly taunting Andersen – he simply wasn’t going to stand as tall as Rask did.
There’s no question that a sharper Andersen does not allow all three of those goals. But this was just the Bruins’ night. The bottom two lines wanted it more, which is a common occurrence for Game 7 winners.
Oh, but that Rask guy. Maybe we can all get off his back for a couple days. He wasn’t just the Bruins’ best player on Tuesday. He may have been their best player over the course of the seven games.
“I personally felt good from the start of the series,” Rask said. “I felt pretty good all year, obviously the workload hasn’t been too much so I feel fresh. It’s all about feeling confident, preparing yourself the right way, trusting your teammates. We battled hard all year and it showed again today.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.