The Boston Bruins are one win away from reaching their first Eastern Conference Final since the 2012-13 season.
If they get there by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in one of the next two games (Game 6, Monday night, 7 p.m. ET, on NBCSN) the play of starting goalie Tuukka Rask is going to be one of the big reasons.
I’ve written about Rask and his postseason performance and reputation in the past, and it is still incredible to see how underappreciated he has been. His career postseason numbers compare favorably to any other goalie in NHL history. He has taken his team to the Stanley Cup Final in the past, and a career .925 save percentage over 77 postseason games is nothing to just write off or overlook. It is a significant sampling of games, and he has been — for the most part — great in those games.
Still, there always seems to be this mindset in Boston — and even outside of Boston — where a large group of people are just waiting for him to fail so he can be the player to take the blame. It’s almost as if it only counts as a “big game” for Rask if he plays poorly in it. The ones where he plays well never seem to get mentioned, and based on his career postseason numbers, he has had a lot of games where he has played at a championship caliber level. If you want to base a goalie’s entire reputation based on what happens in a handful of individual games that you have randomly chosen as important ones, that is on you and you could use that mindset to cut down every goalie in the league. Only one of them is going to end their season with a “W.”
Another way of putting it: Rask has been really good in the playoffs from a big picture outlook, and the big picture matters. This is worth pointing out because a) it doesn’t get pointed out enough with him, and b) even with that he is still playing some of his best hockey right now for the Bruins in this series.
Over the first five games against the Blue Jackets Rask has a .936 save percentage, a number that is outstanding even for the standard he has set for himself. For his entire career he has only ever had two series’ where he’s posted a better save percentage (the 2012-13 Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a 2014 series against the Detroit Red Wings). And as long as we’re digging up numbers on a series-by-series basis for him, of the 14 playoff series’ he has played in his career he has only ever had four where his save percentage for the series was below .923. If you get that level of goaltending on a fairly consistent basis in a best of-seven series, you have an outstanding chance of winning it.
While you can’t discount the Bruins’ defensive play in front of Rask in this series — whether it’s forwards like Patrice Bergerone, or their blue liners including Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo — it’s not like Rask has been totally shielded and insulated from chances.
Entering Game 6 on Monday he’s already faced 44 “high-danger” chances in the series (via Natural Stat Trick), or just under nine per game. Only Jordan Binnington and Martin Jones have faced more among goalies still playing in Round 2. He has an .886 save percentage on those high-danger chances. Only Carolina’s Curtis McElhinney (who only played in two full games in Round 2) has a higher mark in this Round.
He has made the saves he has needed to make, and a lot of saves he probably shouldn’t have been asked to make.
For as good as Sergei Bobrovsky has played in the Columbus net in this series, Rask has been the better goalie.
There is an argument to be made he has been the best player in this series and as long as that continues there might not be anyone that can match up with the team the Bruins put on the ice.