BOSTON — Tuukka Rask first caught head coach Bruce Cassidy’s attention as a hot-headed minor leaguer who was throwing milk crates onto the ice when things didn’t go his way.
These days, the Bruins’ goalie is much more likely to shrug off a mistake than break his stick over a crossbar.
“I just think he’s been real calm for a while now, on and off the ice, really even-keeled,” Cassidy said Tuesday, a day after Boston beat St. Louis 4-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. “He’s gotten upset … but he always gets it right back. That’s typically Tuukka.”
The Bruins are three wins from their second NHL title this decade, and Rask is a big reason for their success. After a so-so regular season that had backup Jaroslav Halak challenging for his job — and many fans calling for the team to make the change — the unflappable Finn has gotten better even when the strain of the playoffs seems to be wearing down others.
Rask has given up three or more goals only three times this postseason, and he finished off the past two rounds with shutouts that have dropped his goals-against average to 1.85. He is well on his way to becoming the first goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP since 2012.
For a different view of the goalie, Cassidy suggested viewing Rask’s viral hissy fit after losing a 2009 AHL game in a shootout on a goal that he thought hit the crossbar. Rask took his stick to the net like an ax, then flung it across the rink as he skated off the ice; when he got to the tunnel, he found a milk crate that also found its way back to the ice.
Rask doesn’t do that anymore. He has matured and he also realized it was fruitless. “It doesn’t do anything” to lose your temper, he said Tuesday, his arms crossed and his shoulders in what seemed like a permanent shrug.
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Instead, he has been able to put mistakes or bad luck behind him, and Cassidy said that was the turning point after St. Louis opened a 2-0 lead Monday.
“You want to have that to not let games get away from you,” the head coach said. “There’s always, in games every night, where things can get away from you. Typically, you need your goalie to make the next save when it is 2-0.”
Rask did that. And he also made every save after. (Though there weren’t that many: The Blues were outshot 18-3 in the second period, and 38-20 overall.)
“Everybody has to pull their load. That’s the only way you can win,” Rask said. “Individuals can have performances in certain games and turn the tide, but at the end of the day, it’s a team sport and everybody needs to pull along and that’s why we’ve been successful.”
Although Rask won the 2014 Vezina Trophy and is the career leader in save percentage and goals-against average among active goalies, Boston fans have resisted embracing him.
He was in net when the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in the 2010 playoffs, and when the Bruins won it all the next season he was Tim Thomas’ backup. Thomas was gone and Rask was the starter two years later when they went back to the Cup Finals, but the Bruins lost to Chicago after Rask allowed two goals in the last 76 seconds of the sixth and clinching game.
The next year, Rask was the league’s top goalie.
Jimmy Golen is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Unflappable-Tuukka-Rask-the-key-to-Bruins-13902346.php.