Bruins eliminate Blue Jackets after another Rask masterpiece

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The Columbus Blue Jackets might feel robbed by the refs, but deep down, they have to wonder: “If Charlie McAvoy got a major penalty for that hit on Josh Anderson, would we have beaten Tuukka Rask, anyway?”

Rask already stamped his name on this Round 2 series with great play, yet Game 6 might have been his best work against Columbus yet. Then again, you have some other great options, as Rask has been lights-out lately. Either way, the Finnish goalie was the standout in the Bruins’ 3-0 win in Game 6, allowing Boston to close out the series 4-2.

With a would-be Bruins goal disallowed thanks to a murky goalie interference review, the first period ended with a 0-0 score.

The second period, then, was quite pivotal. That McAvoy hit on Anderson came with 20 seconds remaining, and the questionable call had Anderson shaking his head at officials to start the third. The Blue Jackets were likely shaking their head in disbelief at Rask in general, though, as they were down 1-0 despite generating a 17-5 shots on goal advantage in that second period, and a 27-17 edge through the first 40 minutes. Rask ultimately generated a 39-save shutout in Game 6.

David Krejci didn’t have a ton of chances on Monday, but he made one of his count, scoring a 1-0 stunner that would stand as the game-winning goal. Krejci continues to be a player who probably deserves more credit for his strong work for the Bruins, particularly in producing big numbers during his playoff career.

Columbus couldn’t convert on the power play that resulted from the McAvoy hit, and can’t argue that they lacked any chances overall, going 0-for-4 on the evening.

Amid all of that controversy, Game 6 was mostly very close, at least until the wheels came off. Marcus Johansson scored a 2-0 goal 8:58 into the third period, and David Backes really took the air out of the building in Columbus by making it 3-0 less than two minutes later. As rugged and hard-working as the Blue Jackets have been during this still-quite-remarkable run in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they didn’t manage much of a push once they fell behind by three goals.

With this result, the Bruins advance to a fascinating 2019 Eastern Conference Final series against the Carolina Hurricanes for Round 3. Boston avoids giving Carolina too much of a rest advantage, as the Hurricanes swept the New York Islanders on Friday. The Bruins were pushed to a Game 7 in Round 1, so avoiding John Tortorella’s guaranteed Game 7 in Round 2 is pretty significant. Even if they might need to face the Hurricanes in Game 1 without McAvoy.

One figures that the Blue Jackets feel absolutely gutted, at least looking at the short term on Monday.

Sergei Bobrovsky was fantastic during this series, but he’ll probably have some regrets about the goals allowed in Game 6, at least the two that really destroyed any dream of a comeback in the third period.

Sweeping the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning remains a testament to GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s bold gamble to keep Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin and load up during the trade deadline, yet Columbus still mortgaged most of its 2018 NHL Draft to see things end here. If Bobrovsky and Panarin stick with the plan and leave Columbus, there are also questions about the likes of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, among other forks in the road.

This was an intense, tight series that ended in a painful way for the Blue Jackets. The Bruins, meanwhile, hope that they’re merely halfway through a glorious journey.

If Rask keeps this up, he might just have a Conn Smythe in his future.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.