BOSTON - Put it behind you. Stay even keel. Don't get too high, don't get too low.
All are common refrains that you may have heard from Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. You may have heard them following the first game of the preseason or the last contest of the postseason. Had you not known the stakes of Tuesday night's must-win Game 7 tilt against the division rival Toronto Maple Leafs, Rask's postgame comments might be no more or less significant than any of his 51 previous starts this season (regular season and playoffs included).
"Just staying even keel and preparing myself the right way, and today was no different," Rask said of his mindset going into the fifth Game 7 of his career. "It just happened to be that I had to make a couple more saves than maybe some other games but that's what I'm there for anyways."
Based on his calm reflection following the 5-1 victory, you wouldn't know that the 32-year-old was the difference in a game that was far closer than the final score indicated.
"I thought Tuukka was great tonight," said head coach Bruce Cassidy, who orchestrated a second Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs in as many years. "He really handled himself well, great composure, got out and played the puck when he needed to, froze it when he needed to. We limited his workload this year, and you wonder how it's going to affect the playoffs, and I think tonight hopefully he got some residual effect from that where he was fresh the last couple of games, playing every second night.
"It pays off and hopefully even more going forward. I think tonight he was our best player tonight. I thought we had a lot of guys play well, but he was our best player."
Video: Cassidy commends whole team effort in victory
Early Difference Maker
While timely scoring powered the Bruins late in the game, early on it was Rask who was the difference.
Early in the first, Morgan Reilly skated down the left wall in the Bruins zone and found Auston Mathews in the high slot for a point-blank chance. Mathews had already scored five goals in the series, but he would be denied a sixth.
"The first one on Matthews kind of surprised me a bit," said Rask. "But it was lucky I had the five-hole covered. He got it off in a hurry. I didn't even see the release, so I got the five-hole covered and made a save."
Video: Rask turns aside 32 shots in 5-1 victory
Shortly after, 94-point scorer Mitch Marner walked down the slot for a dangerous scoring chance.
"On the second one, Marner shot it through the legs and I got my glove on it," said Rask. "It was kind of a bad rebound, but we battled through it. We got a good start but then they got some momentum, so it was big for us to keep them off the scoresheet."
The early stops paid off as Joakim Nordstrom and Marcus Johansson got the B's on the board late in the first frame.
"You want to play with the lead, it was huge," Cassidy said of Rask's two key first period stops. "Rielly was moving around a lot more the last couple games. I think early in the series they were content to pound pucks from up top and try to outnumber us at the net. He started moving around. He's dangerous. He's a real good skater, he sees the ice, bang-bang play into the heart of our defense.
"So, it's a huge save by Tuukka. Listen, I don't think you win any Game 7… generally speaking you need your goaltender to hold you in there, and I thought Tuukka was outstanding. He had a real good series."
Strong Through Two
The second period saw the Toronto continue to push, outshooting the Black & Gold, 13-8. While they were able to get on the board, Rask turned aside a number of Grade A chances.
"Phenomenal, especially in the second period," said defenseman Brandon Carlo, in his first playoff run with the Bruins. "We had a couple breakdowns there and he did a phenomenal job of helping us out and getting us out of that situation. But I wouldn't expect anything different from him. He comes to play every night, especially in the playoffs I've seen, you know, he's excited to play and does a great job."
The lone goal came when John Tavares pounced on a defensive zone turnover and fired a shot low blocker to cut the deficit to 2-1.
"It was tipped, I think whoever the back-checker was got his stick on Tavares' stick before he wanted to release," said Rask. "When I look at that replay it kind of makes sense, the release point was kind of earlier, so it throws you off."
Following the Tavares goal at 3:54 of the second, the Leafs spent substantial time in the Bruins end only to be stymied by Rask and the B's blueline.
"I think that in the second they created a lot of momentum, a lot of chances," said captain and Rask's longtime teammate, Zdeno Chara. "They were putting a lot of pucks on the net, in the slot, a lot of shots, rebounds, and I thought he was in good position and controlling the rebounds and the shots. I thought that he was obviously a difference maker."
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm7: Rask stretches out to turn away Hyman
Big Time Tuukka
With a big time performance in a big time moment, Rask was asked following the game about how he feels the outstanding effort will impact his legacy.
"I guess the big audience will decide that," said Rask. "I just try to prepare myself every game, I go out there the same way. It really helps with the experience. You kind of like, don't let yourself get too high or too low. The Game 7's, it's a do-or-die situation, so you obviously want to play as good as you can. But if you let your mind wander too much then you're not going to be able to perform at your highest level and I think I've done a pretty good job throughout the year of that."
Rask's ability to keep his mind from wandering and stay focused on the game at hand helped elevate his game throughout the series.
"I personally felt good from the start of the series," said Rask. "I felt pretty good all year, obviously the workload hasn't been too much, so I feel fresh. It's all about feeling confident, preparing yourself the right way, trusting your teammates. We battled hard all year and it showed again today."
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm7: Rask on Game 7 win, depth scoring
When asked if it was overstating it to say Rask was the team's best player, Cassidy kept it simple.
"No, that's not overstating it," said Cassidy. "I think that's accurate."
In a city that has seen each of the four major sports teams win a championship since 2008, and 12 since 2001, expectations are always high. Athletes face heavy expectations in Boston and Rask is no exception.
"Hopefully he's converted a few," Cassidy said of anyone critical of Rask over the years. "I think in sports you have that a lot. I'm a sports fan, other sports, and I have it with certain players with teams I root for. For me, in the time I've known him, he's been a very competitive man, excellent goaltender.
"We saw it tonight, and hopefully he can continue to build on his playoff legacy. It's a big Game 7 win, and like I said, I believe he was our best player. And in the second period, we broke down. We had a tough time moving the puck out of our zone. He was there for us. Now, we ended up scoring some goals for him, right? So, that's how our team's done it all year. We play for one and other. We tend to pick each other up, so he picked us up in the second when we were down.
"We got him a couple goals in the first, so he could relax a little bit, but he made the stops he needed to and more. Like I said, I hope fans recognize what he did tonight. I think you have to as a fan acknowledge when a player plays well. I know in this town when you don't you hear about it. That's fine too. Tonight, he played well, and hopefully the people get behind him and acknowledge that."