By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
RALEIGH -- The last time Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask was performing even somewhat close to this level (2013 is the closest), Bruce Cassidy was watching from about 50 miles away as the head coach of the P-Bruins.
But through 16 games this spring, and with a 35-of-36 Game 3 performance emerging as the latest masterpiece Rask has painted at the expense of a simply shellshocked Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Tuesday night, there's no denying that this is the best version of Rask that Cassidy's seen since taking over for Claude Julien back in Feb. 2017.
“For me, I don’t know if there’s been another period [where he’s been this good]," Cassidy offered after the Black and Gold's sixth straight postseason victory. "And I’ll tell you why— cause it’s the urgency and the time of the year.
"We’re in the Eastern Conference Finals. You see the tough environment in Toronto, and the good offensive team in Columbus that just beat Tampa, and he found his game as that went along. And obviously tonight in a difficult environment — a team that had a lot of urgency, more than us early on — but I guess right now is probably the best I’ve seen him play. I don’t want that to come off the wrong way because in those runs he was excellent as well, but right now because of the magnitude of the season, I think right now would be [his best performance].”
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"Tonight, his first period was excellent," said Cassidy.
Excellent sells Rask's opening 20 minutes short, though, as he was downright assaulted by a jumpstarted Hurricanes squad that fired 20 shots on goal. That first period also needed Rask to stand out as Boston's best penalty killer, too, with six minutes of shorthanded time to the B's name in the period, including a 5-on-3 kill as well as a 4-on-3 kill.
It frustrated the 'Canes from top to bottom, really.
“He was really good early, that’s for sure," Hurricanes captain Justin Williams offered after the loss. "We had a lot of opportunities in the first period. Lot of chances early, he made a lot of great saves early.”
"Rask is the difference maker," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour admitted. "You can feel that.”
And that's the problem for Carolina. Rask just seems to get better with each game, as he's posted a .944 save percentage through the first three games of this series, and has a .956 save percentage since Boston's Game 4 win over Columbus. And while every single playoff victory is important, it's worth mentioning that aforementioned magnitude of each victory.
In other words, and to Cassidy's point, it's getting awfully hard to argue against this being Rask's best run yet.
Rask and Co. will go for the third-round sweep on Thursday night against the Hurricanes.