Tuukka Rask showcases his best in Bruins' Game 7 win over Toronto

Evan Marinofsky
April 24, 2019 - 1:40 am

Tuukka Rask saved the best for last. Well, it actually wasn't the last because he was at his best. 

It's no secret that Rask receives his share of criticism from Boston fans and media. Whether it be for Game 6 in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, letting four goals go past him in last year's Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, or coming down with the flu on a must-win last day of the season game in 2016 to go to the playoffs, Rask hears it from everywhere. 

But on Tuesday night, the noise was silenced, and it was Rask at his best as the Bruins beat the Maples Leafs 5-1 to move on to the second round. 

"You have to, as a fan, acknowledge when a player plays well," said Bruce Cassidy of his goaltender. "I know in this town when you don't, you hear about it -- that's fine too. But tonight he played well and hopefully the people get behind him." 

Rask did more than just play well. He was superb. 

For starters, he stopped 32 of 33 shots. In the second period, the Bruins were outshot 13-8 and found themselves on their heels despite being up 2-1. 

"Phenomenal," said Brandon Carlo of Rask's job. "Especially in the second period we had a couple breakdowns there and he did a phenomenal job of helping us out and getting us out of that situation. But I wouldn't expect anything different from him. He comes to play every night, especially in the playoffs. He's excited to play and does a great job." 

Cassidy shared in praise for his goaltender's second period performance. 

"He was our best player and in the second period, we broke down," said Cassidy. "We had a tough time moving the puck out of our zone and he was there for us. We ended up scoring some goals for him and that's how our team's done it all year." 

Rask's biggest impact came in the first period with the game scoreless. Momentum hadn't swung to either side yet but at the time, things were tilting in favor of the Maple Leafs. 

First there was the save on Auston Matthews. Morgan Rielly skated down the side boards and threw one to the front for a Matthews one-timer in the slot. Rask made the save. 

"That kind of surprised me a bit," said Rask. "It was lucky I had the five-hole covered -- he got it off in a hurry. Didn't even see the release, so I had the five-hole covered and made a save." 

Later in the period, Mitch Marner had his chance at Rask and again it was the 32-year-old coming up big in between the pipes. Rask knocked down the first shot with his glove and then made the follow-up save on the rebound. 

"Marner shot it through the legs and it got my glove," said Rask. "It was a bad rebound but I battled through it. We got a good start but then they got some momentum so it was big for us to keep them off the scoresheet." 

Right after those two series of saves, the Bruins added two goals to go ahead and never look back. Had he not made those big saves in the first, the game would've played out a whole lot differently. 

Another big defensive adjustment to help Rask: the Bruins made sure there were no cross-ice one-timers. 

"We got burnt with that in the last game obviously and we looked at it this morning," said Rask. "It's all about being aware of where guys are on the ice and defending that seam pass. I thought we did a great job of that today."

And then there's the topic of where this fits in the bigger picture. 

It's a first round win for the Bruins, which is something they completed last year. But, Rask allowed four goals in that Game 7 and was heavily criticized. He was bailed out by seven goals from his teammates. 

That didn't happen this year. Rask carried his team when they needed him most and was fine when they didn't. He was clutch -- something the anti-Tuukka crew has bashed him for in past years. 

"I guess the big audience will decide that," said Rask when asked if this helps his legacy. "I just try to prepare myself. Every game I go out there the same way. It really helps with the experience. You don't let yourself get too high or too low. The Game 7s, it's a do or die situation so you want to play as good as you can." 

On Tuesday night in Game 7, Tuukka Rask was Tuukka Rask -- an elite goaltender. 

I think that's something we can all agree on.

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