By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Ah, paska. Here we go again.
The Tuukka Rask Debate is back.
And we’re all gonna be dumber for it.
Let’s start with a simple, basic question: Was Tuukka Rask great in Game 7? Of course not. Of course not. He did not perform up to the standard he set through the first 15 wins — and even the eight losses — of his postseason. I don’t think anybody can or should sit here and tell you that.
Rask, like the rest of this Bruins team, left something to be desired in a lifeless Game 7 loss.
But this should absolutely fall on Rask’s teammates more than Rask himself.
When we criticize Rask, it often comes back to a simple cry: He doesn’t steal you games when it matters most. People will quickly point towards Wednesday’s Game 7 as the latest example of that. A first period that saw Jordan Binnington stop all 12 shots thrown his way while Rask surrendered two goals on four shots against doesn’t help silence that crowd.
But at what point do we say that Rask’s teammates needed to steal a game for their goaltender?
For 23 games, Rask gave you every single chance to win. And then some.
He was devastating in Games 6 and 7 of the B’s first-round comeback against the Maple Leafs, with stops on all but three of 57 shots thrown his way by the high-powered Leafs with the B’s backs against the wall. His second-round takeover against the Blue Jackets — and behind a suddenly-porous Boston defense that allowed nearly 40 shots in three straight games at that — allowed the Bruins to dodge what seemed like likely death in a 2-1 hole with just three goals allowed and a .965 over the course of three straight victories. The 32-year-old Rask survived what could have been a series-changing opening period in Game 3 in Carolina, with 20 first-period saves (and 35 saves in total by the night’s end), and failed to yield a single goal on the 17 (17!) high-danger chances the Hurricanes threw on net in that game. He followed that up with a 24-save shutout the following night, slamming the door on any potential Carolina comeback or additional wear-and-tear on a veteran Boston squad.
Rask was absolute nails in elimination games — he entered Game 7 with a 5-0 record and .973 save percentage when facing elimination or with the chance to eliminate the opposition this postseason — and withstood an early barrage from the Blues in Game 6 en route to a 28-of-29 night to force a Game 7 in the first place.
In fact, Rask’s entire body of work this postseason saw him finish with a league-leading 13.04 goals saved against average (all situation). It’s the second-highest mark since then-Coyotes netminder Mike Smith saved 13.33 goals above average in 2012 (Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick finished with 13.30 goals saved above average). Overall, Rask’s 13.04 mark is the fourth-best since 2011, with Tim Thomas’ preposterous 20.72 goals saved above average standing head and shoulders above the rest.
So if we’re talking about “stealing games,” you need a second hand to count the amount of games Rask stole for this Bruins team this postseason. If not, you’re being straight-up dishonest, and a logical discussion about this is impossible.
For two months, Rask was passing both the eye test and the analytical test. For two months, this was his moment.
But in the final game, he didn’t have it. He needed help.
Or a pick-me-up from his teammates to keep this close, at the very least.
But that help never came close to arriving on TD Garden ice — not even with the gift of a first-period power-play opportunity with Colton Parayko throwing the puck over the glass — and I’m not sure we’d like to consider a backbreaking goal with 7.6 seconds left in the first period the pick-me-up that the Bruins wanted to give their goaltender.
The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line, a trio that scored the 14th-most five-on-five goals among qualifying lines during the regular season but finished with zero goals as a line in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, was not just bad, but they were a liability at times. Bergeron was playing through a bum groin, Marchand couldn’t handle the puck, and the moment looked too big for Pastrnak for the first time since his introduction to playoff hockey back in April 2017. It’s especially damning when you rewatch the team’s first period and see Pastrnak’s two whiffs on what seemed like sure-thing one-time blasts, and how Marchand never came close to getting a look better than the one Binnington took away from him with his right pad.
And from Pastrnak’s poor puck-management to Marchand’s unforgivably bad line change, it’s amazing to think that this line’s greatest impact at five-on-five came on what ended up being the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Blues.
It’s the kind of puck management and goal against that can’t happen in a Game 7, and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy knew it.
“I’m not saying that we would have won or we would have lost, I’m not a mind reader, but I do believe that [the second goal] gave [St. Louis] a lot of juice for a period that they, you know if they looked at it objectively, probably felt or should have felt that they got outplayed,” said Cassidy. “But they’re up 2-0 on the scoreboard and that’s all that matters.”
The Bergeron Line got Space Jam’d, and the Blues played the role of the girl telling Charles Barkley to begone.
And the Bruins never quite recovered. Rask recovered with some sprawling saves in both the second and third period, but the Bruins could not break through the stout St. Louis defense, and it really wasn’t until Joakim Nordstrom’s third-period look that the Bruins even appeared somewhat close to recapturing their first-period desperation. By then, it was much too late.
It got worse throughout the night, though, like when the Bruins’ best tape-to-tape pass of an apathetic second period was to a Blues skater. And it hit rock bottom when Rask visibly pointed towards Brayden Schenn as a scoring threat and then watched helplessly as nobody covered Schenn en route to St. Louis’ third goal of the night. Because of course.
It was a House of Horrors featuring more than just the Ghosts of Rask’s Postseason Past.
“You lose as a team and win as a team,” Rask said. “It sucks for all of us.”
But it will certainly suck more for the polarizing goaltender who did not deserve what he got in Game 7.