As the game wore on past 70 minutes of action, the Boston Bruins' goaltender had to battle the thoughts in his head.
Rask beat down enough of those thoughts and stopped enough of those Penguins shots – a career-best 53 – to allow Patrice Bergeron a chance to score the game-winning goal 15:19 in double overtime as the Bruins earned a 2-1 victory and opened up a 3-0 lead in this best-of-7 series.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday (8 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, RDS) at TD Garden.
"I don't think you feel that physical fatigue at that point," Rask said. "It's just trying to keep your head and not thinking that you're tired. It's just a mental challenge. If you think you're tired, you're tired."
Over the course of 73:19 of action, the Penguins outshot the Bruins 54-40. They had tested Rask with just 56 shots combined in the Bruins' Game 1 and 2 victories. Prior to the series, Rask admitted that he knew even his club's superior defense couldn't hold down the highest scoring team in the NHL for the entirety of the series. Sooner or later, a barrage would come.
Rask had to make 14 saves on 15 shots in the second period, and 14 of 14 in the third when the Bruins were outshot, 14-4, just to preserve a 1-1 tie and get the game into overtime. A combination of Pittsburgh's adjustments and the Bruins' lack of sharpness led to a host of scoring chance that didn't occur in the first two games in the Steel City.
"I feel good. I don't feel any better than I've felt throughout the playoffs," said Rask, who is now 11-4 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "I think our team's helping me out a lot. Obviously you let in two goals in three games, you're going to make some good saves, too. But we're blocking shots and taking care of the rebounds pretty well. So they're helping me out a lot."
Rask, who has only allowed two goals in three games to a team that had averaged more than four per contest in the postseason, also got some help from at least four posts the Penguins hit. When you're hot, though, you tend to get those breaks. And Rask was on fire most of the night. The Bruins had to kill six penalties against the League's best power play. And they were perfect, to run their record in the series to 12-for-12.
A James Neal point-blank chance, a Beau Bennett stuff attempt after skating across the slot, a poke check on a Jarome Iginla drive to the net after an up-and-over move around defenseman Johnny Boychuk – Rask stopped nearly all of them.
Only Chris Kunitz's one-timer 8:51 into the second period eluded Rask. That goal tied the game. The Bruins barely cut down on their mistakes in front of Rask, but they didn't have to.
"Yeah, he was great," Bergeron said. "Again, we should say he's been great all playoffs, and he's really given us the saves that we need and the energy, the momentum that we need in order to do the job in front of him. They had some really good looks that we should have done a better job defensively and he bailed us out."
This was the type of game the Bruins groomed Rask to thrive in. All his time apprenticing in the American Hockey League and then on the bench behind Tim Thomas was meant to prepare him to translate his cool demeanor into pivotal victories.
He refused to rank the win against the Penguins among his other important wins of his career, but you'd be hard-pressed to make an argument against this Game 3. Depending how the rest of this series and playoff season unfolds, the words Tuukka Rask and Game 3 might conjure up some great memories down the road.
Don't ask Rask, though, to look too far into the future yet.
"You can't fall into that trap when you're up 3-0," Rask said. "As I said, every game means more and more than the one before. So we just have to focus on what we have to do to win the hockey games and not look too far ahead in the future. We just have to play a solid game and see where that takes us."
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