By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Tuukka Rask has had the Conn Smythe Trophy locked up for weeks - maybe even if the Bruins lose. But for the sake of the goaltender's legacy, one way or another he needs to hoist the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night.
Rask has flipped the prevailing narrative on him one game at a time in the 2019 postseason. Well, the narrative permeates at least half of New England. He's been one of the most polarizing players in this entire ridiculous run of success for all Boston sports teams. Mainly because he's never won a Stanley Cup as the Bruins' starting goaltender.
But if he stymies the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, he's the new David Price. Narratives shattered. The only stragglers left complaining about Rask will more resemble the rambling fools you might encounter on street corners. Sort of like the people who cling to Tom Brady being a "system quarterback" and lucky to win all six of those Super Bowls.
For Rask, it just takes one Cup. And he's one game away from touching it once again.
The way he's played this postseason, there's more than enough reason to be confident that he'll stand tall one more time. Rask and the Bruins are 5-0 this postseason in elimination games, and he's posted a .973 save percentage in those games. In Boston's three series clinchers so far, Rask has allowed one goal on 96 shots - an insane .990 save percentage.
Unfortunately, it probably still takes a Cup win for Rask to finally silence his long-standing critics. But outside opinions don't really matter to him or his team.
"For you who have followed me, I’ve been honest with his play for three years that I’ve been here, but Im not a critic," head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters on Tuesday. "I’ve always believed he’s of of the elite goalies in the league. I think when you win championships that cements that. That’s part of your legacy, so clearly winning a championship at those key positions - quarterback, starting pitcher, goaltender - is a lot of times what defines you down the road. So he’ll be ready to do it. Let’s hope we’re good in front of him. I have no worries about him [in Game 7]. I know it’s more about our team being ready to go and executing the way we need to."
If he wins it's simple. No matter how it looks on Wednesday night, Rask has done beyond enough for rational onlookers to change the minds of anyone who's doubted him in his career. But if the Bruins lose? It makes his already-complicated legacy that much harder to discuss.
Maybe the Bruins lose 1-0, allowing a goal on a defensive breakdown. Real-time analysis will fairly point that out, but the reality will fade. The critics will still have the proverbial trump card that he still hasn't won a Cup. Sort of like Rask's great run in 2013 that many like to define by a single 17-second sequence and the Blackhawks kissing the Cup in the Bruins' building.
Maybe the Bruins lose and Rask plays poorly. It would be a stunning departure from what we've seen out of him throughout the playoffs and a tough pill for his supporters, and an "I told you so" moment for the detractors.
Maybe the Bruins win and Rask plays poorly. A 6-5 barnburner. The reality will also fade while the image of Rask lifting the Stanley Cup will make a permanent imprint.
The truth all along is that Rask is as competitive as any goalie in the league, regardless of a few letdowns you might like to revisit. He hates to lose or give up goals. That goes all the way back to the Childhood Dream™ that he shares with every NHL player. But much like he's looked in net, Rask still keeps it cool and light.
“That’s every kid’s dream who plays pond hockey or backyard hockey. You put something on the line, imagine it’s a Game 7, if it’s just me and my buddy playing outside and he would score I’d say ‘We’re starting over’,” he joked to reporters on Tuesday.
Like the rest of the team, Rask has gotten stronger as the Stanley Cup Final has gone along. The Bruins adjusted their defense and Rask made numerous big saves (hell, even when he gave up a goal) in Game 6, arguably his best game of the playoffs considering the circumstances.
But now it's time for the capstone. The final exam. This entire incredible, special run will mean little in the long term if Rask doesn't deliver one more big game. Fair? Of course not. But sports life isn't fair when it comes to championships. Like Price did with the 2018 World Series, Rask needs that final jewel to be crowned the way he wants. Or maybe he doesn't care about legacy.
That's not the sense you get from how he's played in the past two and a half months, though. Rask has been on a mission, and Wednesday is his chance to finish the job. How this run will ultimately be remembered is up to him.
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].