Boston, MA -
As upwards of 17, 565 TD Garden fans chanted his name, Tuukka Rask
(affectionately known as "Tuuuuuuukka" to the Boston crowd) remained calm.
Sure he was facing a Vezina candidate, and yes, he's in his rookie year, and okay, he's only played a little over half of this season's games. Not to mention, he's just 23 years old.
Rask knew what he was up against, and yet managed to wrap up his first NHL playoff series with a 2.18 GAA and a.927 save percentage. Those stats rank him fourth in the League in both categories.
Not too shabby for a first attempt.
Only allowing 14 goals in six games, Rask led the Bruins to victory over the no. 3-seeded Buffalo Sabres, despite the critics who said the experience of Buffalo's Ryan Miller would trump the energy of Boston's Rask.
When asked if he was offended that people labeled his team as the "underdogs," Rask brushed it off.
"No. It's just we can't, we don't think about that," he said. "We know how good we can be and how good we are.
"Every time, no matter how you finish, people are going to pressure you or say you have no chance. We don't care about that. We just play our game and try to get the wins."
Bruins head coach Claude Julien said he never lost faith in the Finnish rookie, even as he was slated to face "arguably the best goaltender in the League."
"We're talking about Miller here," Julien said. "For him to go up against him and at least go head-to-head, and in every game both goaltenders played well, and to come out the winner, I think it speaks volumes for how Tuukka's reacted and how well he's played."
Though Game 6 was not technically a must-win for the B's, Rask said it sure felt like it.
"Tonight's [mindset] was just, ‘Finish them off,'" he said. "We didn't want to go back to Buffalo.
"It's a tough city and a tough rink to play in. After last game, everybody realized we weren't at our best and we had to get better. I think we showed great character today."
Every time, no matter how you finish, people are going to pressure you or say you have no chance. We don't care about that. We just play our game and try to get the wins. - Tuukka Rask
Rask ended the regular season with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage, and both stats put him first among NHL goaltenders. His poise and impressive statistics from the year have been translated into W's for the Bruins in the postseason.
The upward trend started several weeks before the end of the regular season, when Rask and his B's really started heating up.
"Obviously we recognized we have to get the wins and make the playoffs," Rask said. "We knew our group belonged in the playoffs and we played really tight games to grind it out and get those wins.
"Going into the playoffs, anything can happen."
Then he smiled and added, "I don't think it's an upset for us, but people like to talk about it like an upset. I thought we played a good game."
Though their second-round opponent has yet to be determined since it depends on the outcome of other Conference games, the Bruins are ready for whatever the hockey gods throw at them. No matter whom they face, however, Rask is certain the nonbelievers will be throwing around terms like "underdog," "upset," and "longshot," when describing his team.
The Finnish phenom had a simple answer for his critics: "Who cares?"
"Look at our guys. […] You know, anything can happen."