There’s no denying that New York’s switch to Semyon Varlamov has been the series changer that the Islanders wanted.
After Ilya Sorokin’s rebound control came dangerously close to launching saboteur conspiracies in a Game 1 loss, Varlamov has tightened this series and undoubtedly brought it closer to an Islander Style of game. And on Thursday night, that showdown brought the best out of Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, and earned the Bruins a 2-1 series lead over Varlamov’s squad.
“He was rock solid,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Rask. “Looked really good in the overtime. Square to the shooters. Any rebounds, he was resetting, I thought on the PK, he held his ice when he had to. So a lot of good things. I thought it was a great goaltending game by their guy and our guy, and that’s why you get a 1-1 [score] into overtime.”
And for as much as our eyes pop with Varlamov’s 39-of-41 stat line, it was Rask’s 28-of-29 performance that made overtime possible for the Bruins. It was a 28-save performance that included two breakaway saves, about a billion chances and attempts from the slot, and stops on five power-play shots from the Islanders. Oh, and another five overtime saves behind a Brando Carlo-less blue line in just over three minutes of work, including a ridiculous stop on Mat Barzal.
In a hostile environment, and with chances to unravel, Rask was the calming presence that guided the B’s ship.
“They had a couple of really good looks and the D really beared down in our zone to get the puck out when the time came, but [Rask] kept us in it [and] gave us that extra couple of minutes that we needed to get the job done,” Brad Marchand, who scored the game-winning goal on an almost impossible angle shot, said. “When you have Tuukka making the saves that he did in overtime, it gives us that confidence to make the play when the time comes.”
Tuukka Rask with some major stops just ahead of Marchand’s winner:— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) June 4, 2021
But as is tradition, let’s overanalyze the Islanders’ lone goal of the evening, and one of just two goals surrendered by Rask in the last 100:53 of hockey, shall we?
Would it have been nice for Rask to iron-leg it and completely seal off right side of net and prevent Mat Barzal from tucking it home on his third try? Of course. That’d be amazing, and it would’ve been another highlight-reel save mentioned here.
You know what would’ve been even better? If the Bruins didn’t let a player as talented as Barzal have three uncontested whacks at a loose puck. You want to blame somebody on that goal, please check out Connor Clifton completely abandoning the right side to go after a puck on the left side (a left side with three skaters of Boston support) with the Bruins protecting a one-goal lead with five minutes and change left in the third period. Or Chris Wagner’s fly-by on Barzal opposed to the necessary clear-out to prevent the multi-chance look. These things matter this time of year, and if the goalie makes the initial save with his toe, and then does it again before chance No. 3 beats him, I have a hard time going, “You! It’s all your fault! SWAYMAN TIME.”
As does the man who has never been afraid to let you know when he thinks Rask whiffs on a shot he should’ve stopped.
The goal he gave up, we had a breakdown in front of the net by our D; took the wrong route,” Cassidy offered. “Barzal stayed with the puck. I think Tuukka was strong on the post and unfortunately just couldn’t quite seal it.”
By now, however, I know that requests to look at a whole sequence of events versus immediately screaming about the goaltender and his salary or the past makes me an apologist or something. But, I will continue to insist that you’ll have more fun if you watch a game through your eyeballs and not your butt.
While this is perhaps the first game we can say that Rask stole, his Game 3 excellence was in line with his postseason to date.
Through eight postseason games, Rask’s .934 save percentage ranks third among all postseason goalies, trailing only the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (.935) and Colorado’s Phillipp Grubauer (.943). Rask has also saved 3.49 goals above average at all-strength play, which again ranks as the third-best mark this postseason, trailing only Vasilevkiy and Grubauer. In other words, the only two goalies performing at a higher level than Rask through the first round and a half of playoff hockey is the Vezina favorite and reigning Stanley Cup winner and the goaltender of a team yet to suffer a loss this postseason. Decent.
Rask has also been exceptional when skating in a deadlocked game, with a league-high 142 saves and excellent .940 save percentage in over 292 minutes of tied action this spring. Game 2 was actually the first time all postseason that Rask allowed a deficit to ‘balloon’ out to two, and he rebounded with 22 straight saves before the Casey Cizikas winner in overtime.
Speaking after his team’s Game 2 loss, Cassidy noted that Varlamov was one save better than Rask and that was the difference.
And on Thursday, it was Rask who shot down a repeat and made the difference through three periods and another overtime to deliver the potential series changer that the Bruins wanted and needed after a Boston split.
The Bruins needed to rely on their star players to pull out the victory in overtime. And that’s exactly what happened.
Matt Dolloff and Ty Anderson of the SideLines podcast at 98.5 The Sports Hub broke down the Bruins’ 2-1 overtime win over the Islanders on Thursday night with their latest postgame show. Listen above for the full podcast.
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.