Tuukka Rask zeroes in, leads Bruins to conference finals

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If that’s how Tuukka Rask plays when he’s dented, then the Bruins should keep a rubber hammer handy to give him a a good whack every now and then.

On the morning of Monday’s Game 6, Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was looking to seize on anything positive on which his team could latch going into their elimination date with the Bruins at Nationwide Arena.

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“The biggest thing from the last game, Game 5, was that we dented their goalie,” Tortorella said.

Well, you can’t blame the coach for trying, but in the end, it was all wishin’ and hopin’. For in a series in which Rask was in contention for the No. 1 star every night, he played his best game of the six to lead the B’s to a 3-0 victory to boot the dangerous cheap nhl jerseys from china
Blue Jackets out of the playoffs, stopping all 39 shots he faced and standing tall against four Blue Jackets power plays.

This was a hard-fought series that probably deserved a Game 7, and if Rask was a hair off his game, it very well might have been the Bruins with the long faces in the handshake line Monday.

But right now Rask just might be playing the best hockey of his career, one that already includes a Stanley Cup finals appearance and Vezina Trophy.

“Outstanding, again,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need your goalie to deliver, and I think that’s stating the obvious. He looks real composed and they were bumping him. They hit him pretty hard tonight and they got called for it, but he kept his composure. I think there was some gamesmanship that most teams go through to try and get a goalie off his game and it seems he was able to play through that as well.

“He did a real nice job for us and we ended up rewarding him for some goals. We didn’t leave it to chance. That’s what I liked about our third. We still attacked and extended the lead. He was definitely our most consistent player through the whole series. We had players have good performances from game to game but he was there every night and he certainly deserves whatever accolades he has coming to them.”

Faced with elimination and an uncertain offseason with big free agents Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all up for new contracts, the Jackets came at Rask hard. In the first period Pierre-Luc DuBois, an agitating presence all series, hit the side of the net and just kept rumbling straight into Rask, getting a two-minute penalty for goalie interference, the only power play the B’s got all night.

But the refs can’t take care of everything in a physical playoff series like this and, in a second period in which the Jackets outshot the B’s 17-5, Rask took matters into his own hands. When Nick Foligno infringed upon his space after the whistle, Rask went full Tim Thomas on him, throwing several blocker shots at the Columbus captain.

“I was just trying to have fun with Foligno there a couple of times,” said Rask, aided by three pipe shots from Columbus. “I think as the series went on, they kind of felt that they needed to do that to get in my head a little bit, but it’s funny when that happens because you know you have the better of them at that point. But if they start running you, you’ve got to defend yourself and throw a couple of shots. I gave Foligno a couple of body shots, for sure.”

And speaking of gamesmanship, he was asked about Tortorella’s comments from the morning and, as usual, he claimed he doesn’t read any of those things. But if he took a spoonful of truth serum, you might find out he was apprised of them, one way or another. Whether he knew beforehand or not, Rask was told of them in the media scrum after the game.

“It’s the playoffs and it’s mind games, always,” Rask said. “It’s entertaining. It’s the entertainment industry I guess. That’s what the fans and media want. When I’m playing, I don’t read it. But if I’m a spectator, I like to read it because it’s entertaining.”

Somehow, Rask had developed a reputation as a guy who would not come through in the clutch. But If there are any Rask-haters left in Boston, they’ve probably disappeared into the weeds, hoping maybe he’ll slip up in the next series against the upstart Carolina Hurricanes.

But now, with the B’s halfway to their goal of the Stanley Cup, it’s hard to keep that narrative going. Rask gave up one goal on 33 shots in a Game 7 win against Toronto and now zero goals on 39 shots in the elimination game against the Blue Jackets, against whom no one wanted another Game 7, whether it was at home or not.

Asked if being known as a big-game goalie was important to him, Rask became a bit philosophical, talking about maturing and realizing it’s a team game and everything doesn’t have to be on his shoulders. Interesting stuff.

But before that, Rask grinned and delivered the line of the night: “Better than sucking.”

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