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PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 27: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in action during a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins at PPG PAINTS Arena on April 27, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Boston Bruins won 3-1. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs brought about the exhausting division of Tuukka Rask Debate that we’re all used to by now.

But no matter your stance on Rask and the overtime bounce that caused over-the-top panic we’ve seldom seen, Anti-Raskers and Boo-Hooville residents can agree on one thing: Tuukka Rask absolutely got better as this series went along.

And it was Rask who helped save the Bruins any extra, unnecessary tread on their postseason tires when it became knockout time.

In net for what finished as a 40-of-41 performance in the Boston crease in Game 5, Rask was everything the Bruins needed and more to overcome what felt like a sluggish start after back-to-back wins on Garden ice. For Rask, that included 10 stops in a scoreless opening frame, and then a perfect 20-for-20 line in a middle period that saw the Bruins outshot by a staggering 20-to-4 mark (though the Bruins did score on two of those four shots). And it wasn’t until a rebound coughed right back out to Conor Sheary that the Capitals put themselves on the board, but it stood as the lone blemish in what finished as a 10-save period for Rask, and with nine straight stops to close out the Capitals and this series in dominant fashion.

“He’s unbelievable,” David Pastrnak said after the team’s series-clinching victory. “It’s just incredible. He’s never out of position. He’s been standing on the head this series and we’re obviously lucky to have him behind us.”

That’s been especially true since that Game 1 loss, too, as Rask stopped all but seven of the 137 shots thrown his way since Game 2 (a .949 save percentage), and let Sunday’s clincher stand as the 34-year-old’s exclamation mark on his bounce-back.

“I felt good all series,” Rask said. “This game [Sunday], it was probably the most chances and shots they had all series. So, you know, that’s one of the reasons that it looked like I was in the zone. Previous games, I’ve had six shots halfway through the game and sometimes that’s harder. But it was just one of those games today that there’s a lot of shots, but I was seeing the puck well. They didn’t create too much traffic or deflections, and that always helps.”

One of Rask’s best qualities in this series? His ability to stop the bleeding and outright refusal to let the Capitals build any positive momentum. At no point in this series did the Capitals have a multi-goal lead, and they scored back-to-back goals just once in the entire series. Rask was also beat cleanly just three times, with all the other goals scored by Washington coming off deflection off Capital sticks or bodies from in tight or put in the net by friendly fire from Jeremy Lauzon or Brandon Carlo.

Rask also didn’t make life easy for the Capitals in any regard. There were no cheapies after Game 1, with a deflection through six bodies in Game 2 being the closest thing. He refused to make the same mistakes that a wandering Craig Anderson or sleepy Ilya Samsonov did in Games 2 and 3. And the Bruins had his back in the defensive zone throughout the closeout.

“Tuukka worked hard to see pucks and I think we worked hard to sort of push bodies out of there so he could see pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So a lot of the games seemed to be spent in our zone, but you’re almost kind of as a coach sitting there going it seems like we’re OK, even though it was in our zone. We weren’t running around. We stuck to the structure.

“Tonight was one of those nights they didn’t get one to rattle around a lot of their other shots in the first parts of the games of the series hit our [guys]. We’ve had a couple going off our own guys, a couple of funny deflections. I almost felt like tonight those weren’t going to happen. They were going to have to beat Tuukka clean.”

“I thought game-by-game, we kind of we got better, especially early on,” said Rask. “I think we had everybody going, which was huge. Everybody contributed offensively, defensively, and we did a lot of little things right. I think that probably ended up being the difference, that we were just the better team overall.”

Especially in net and when the Bruins needed it.

The Bruins are moving on to the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs after dispatching of the Washington Capitals in five games. Matt Dolloff and Ty Anderson of 98.5 The Sports Hub are here to break it down with another postgame podcast, which you can listen to above.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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.