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Tuukka Gets His Due

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - Tuukka Rask was near perfect against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Bruins' netminder saved 134 of the 136 shots directed on his goal through a four-game series sweep of Pittsurgh, sending his team to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years. Though, it was his first time between the pipes for such a feat - and he proved what he and his teammates had known all along, and have preached on countless occasions.

Rask is a game-changer. And in this series, he was the difference maker.

In Game One, he recorded his first career playoff shutout in the Bruins' 3-0 win that would set the tone for the series. In Game Four, he stoned Pittsburgh's top guns once again, letting his team finally jump out to a 1-0 lead they would never surrender in the final 20 minutes. When the "We want the Cup!" chants from the Garden faithful had subsided, the "Eastern Conference Champions" flashing around the arena dimmed down, the Bruins outscored their favored opponent 12-2.

Rask's performance gave him a 0.44 goals-against average and .985 save percentage in the series against the Pens' potent offense that came into the series scoring 4.27 goals per game.

In doing so, his two goals allowed set a new club record for fewest goals allowed in a four-game series. It bests the Bruins' previous mark of five allowed to the Montreal Maroons in the 1930 Semifinal and to Toronto in the 1969 Quarterfinal series.

With a 12-4 record, Rask currently leads all postseason goaltenders in save percentage (.943) and is second in goals-against average (1.75).

In Game Four's 1-0 game, he didn't have as high a volume of shots, but he stopped all 26, several of them Grade-A scoring chances. Seventeen of those shots came from Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Letang and Iginla.

"Well he saved us again, I mean especially at the end it seemed like there were 10 guys out there for our shift," said shutdown defensive mainstay, Dennis Seidenberg. "They were throwing pucks everywhere and he seemed to just find the lane and find the puck and get his glove or a body part on it."

Seidenberg has said before that whenever there is any sort of breakdown, his heart stops, but his thought process is always, 'no, we're okay, Tuukka's back there.'

So there he was, with the seconds ticking down in the final minute of what seemed like 10, staying square, throwing his body around while others were flying in front of him, and still, he stay zeroed in on the puck.

At one point, he lost his stick, threw himself in front of shots, with his teammates doing the same, including Zdeno Chara, who dove to block a shot from Evgeni Malkin, and then somehow got his glove on the puck to keep it out.

"I mean it’s just a scramble. You can’t see anything and people are laying everywhere. You don’t have a stick. You’re just kind of trying to throw yourself as big as you can and try to stop the puck," said Rask, his cool, calm and collected self standing in front of his stall after taking his team into the Stanley Cup Final.

It was poetic, really, to see Rask glove the final shot from Iginla as the clock ticked to zero. Still not sure how he saw the shot through five players creating a wall in front, but that's Tuukka for you.

"No, I know," smiled Johnny Boychuk postgame, when it was suggested Rask was seeing beach balls instead of hockey pucks out on the ice. "He’s been playing phenomenal and he gives us a chance to win every night even if we’re not playing at our best - and, he’s Tuukka."

That 'Tuukka' was wearing his usual Boston Police hat backwards as he spoke to media following the win, and was his usual conversational, even-keeled self - only, this time, he let out a few smiles.

"That’s what you dream about, right?" he said, of heading to the Final. "Couldn’t be better."

"It doesn’t matter if it’s the Penguins or whoever. It’s always good when you let in only two goals in four games. It tells a lot about your team, team effort too, so I like our chances when we let in two goals in four games."

The entire team's defensive effort was apparent in the series, from Rask's foundation in the crease, to the defensemen, to the forwards, to the coaching staff behind the bench and all of the pre-series planning that went into shutting down Pittsburgh's firepower.

"We’ve been together for a long time," said Rask, of their "team" game. "And we kind of know what we do and we can read each other plays and stuff and we blocked a lot of shots and our D [defense], they have really good sticks usually, take care of the passing lanes and the rebounds, so it’s just fun. It helps my job a lot."

Following the sweep, Penguins' Head Coach Dan Byslma knew what the X-factor was in the series. It's what he had known - and voiced - throughout the series.

"There's no question that the performance he put in in this series was elite," said Bylsma of Rask. "He was the difference in the series, there is no question."

Moving forward, Rask will still be his loose self between the pipes. But he'll also show the same continued confidence we've seen throughout the entire postseason. And that approach comes from - as cliche as it sounds - taking it one game at a time.

"I think you have to kind of on some level," said Rask, on just thinking of Game One of the Finals as 'just another hockey game.'

"You can’t make too big of a deal out of it because it’s the same game. It’s just, the Stanley Cup is on the line, but it’s still the same game, and you have to stay focused and focus on your job."

GM, Coach Praise Rask's Play

Not only are Rask's teammates giving him his well-deserved praise following the series, but not surprisingly, his general manager and coach as well.

"You know, the single save for me has been what the difference is," said GM Peter Chiarelli, of Rask's ability to control the momentum of games. "To maintain the heavy actions and when the actions at the other end, he can come down and make the single save when they’re on a breakaway or a one time or something like that. I think that's been a real improvement on him."

"One of the things I thought he’s done terrifically in the last two series is handling the puck. And he’s been breaking the forecheck, especially in the New York series. So it’s something that I know [Goaltending Coach] Bob Essensa and him have been working on. I thought he was terrific."

"He’s been terrific, he’s been really good. And he’s got a level-head about him, which is important in the heat of the action. You need top end goaltending to win this thing - and he’s been giving us that."

Bruins' Head Coach Claude Julien has given insight into the goaltender's personality and approach on numerous occasions - how he's as "normal" of a netminder as he's ever coached, and his ability to never get jolted from his game (even if he does give a stick slash to the boards here or there).

"Right now he's in a zone that you hope he can hold on to," said Coach.

"Without that kind of goaltending, you don't get a chance at winning a Cup."

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