ST. LOUIS — The problem with declaring that Tuukka Rask has played his best game of the playoffs is that it’s an overused line.
The Boston Bruins goalie has been that good. He’s had too many nights to count when he’s looked better than he’s ever looked before. And then the next game, he goes out and somehow looks even better.
Still, his 28-save performance in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final has to be among his best, if only because of how great the stakes were.
“It’s hard to really pick one at this point,” Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron said of yet another game in which Rask was at his best. “I thought he was tremendous against Carolina as well and you can go down the line. He’s been at his best for a while now.”
Down 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in the best-of-seven series — and with somewhere around 100,000 fans filling the streets outside Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis hoping to celebrate the franchise’s first-ever championship — Rask needed to be better than he had ever been before. He needed to be the Bruins’ best player.
More than that, he needed to steal a game. And, in a 5-1 win that forced Game 7, he did just that.
“I mean, it goes without saying, he’s been a big reason why we’re in this position,” Bergeron said of Rask.
“And tonight, he was definitely in the zone and gave us that spark, I guess, if you will. He made some tremendous saves, especially early on to keep us in the game and then that first goal that got us going.”
You knew this was coming. You knew the Bruins wouldn’t go down easy and that Rask would be hard to beat on a night when his season — and quite possibly his playoff reputation — was on the line. But even he exceeded expectations, as St. Louis went 0-for-4 on the power play.
“He was the best player on the ice,” said defenceman Charlie McAvoy.
Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo, Karson Kuhlman, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara scored for the Bruins. But this was hardly a blowout. For two periods, the Blues were the better team. If not for Rask, who kept the score 1-0 through 40 minutes, this could have been a different story.
Instead, the series is now heading to Boston for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday.
It’s now the Bruins who have confidence. And it’s the Blues who might now be wondering whether they blew an opportunity that might not come around again, especially if Rask has another one of these games in him.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for my whole life, to win this trophy,” said McAvoy. “And that’s all it really is — a dream. And then all of a sudden, you’re here and it’s gone by fast, we’re already in Game 7. I’ll be damned if I blink. There’s no time to be worried or nervous of this situation.”
The Blues were the better team in the first period, but by the end of 20 minutes, it was 1-0 for Boston. Most of that was because of a 5-on-3 power play goal that Marchand scored. But really, it was because of Rask, who was dialled in from the opening faceoff.
This was the Rask that we’ve seen all playoffs. The goalie who outplayed Toronto’s Frederik Andersen and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky in the first two rounds and swept the Carolina Hurricanes practically all by himself.
In the final, he keeps raising his game to even greater heights.
Rask had to be sharp right away, as he stuck out a pad and robbed Brayden Schenn alone in front on a Blues power play minutes into the game. Shortly after, with Boston on the man-advantage, he forced Ryan O’Reilly into missing wide on a short-handed breakaway. It proved to be a pivotal save, as O’Reilly would put the Blues down two men after accidentally flipping the puck over the glass, leading to Marchand’s power play goal.
The second period turned into a goalies dual, with Rask and Jordan Binnington going save-for-save, including a circus-type stop where Rask reached around his body and gloved a puck that had bounced off the post and landed on his back.
Eventually, however, it was the Blues rookie who blinked first.
Two-and-a-half minutes into the third period, Carlo scored the eventual game-winner on a wrist shot that seemed to deflect off a couple of bodies and bounced past Binnington. From there, the floodgates opened, with Kuhlman and
Pastrnak putting the game out of reach.
Then again, with the way that Rask was playing, it was out of reach long before that. If he keeps it up, you can start engraving his and the rest of the Bruins’ names on the Stanley Cup.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019