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Rask 'in the zone' to help Bruins reach Stanley Cup Final

Goalie has won seven consecutive playoff games

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

RALEIGH -- The Boston Bruins see how dialed in Tuukka Rask has been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, how quick he's been laterally, how well he's seeing the puck, stopping it and playing it. 

"He's in a zone right now," forward Brad Marchand said of his goalie.

"He's so in the zone right now you almost don't even want to talk to him," defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said.


[RELATED: How Bruins got to 2019 Stanley Cup Final]


Rask downplays such talk.

"Being in the zone," he quipped, "nobody knows what that means."

Well, maybe Rask does know based on his explanation of how he's played to help the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final, including a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Bruins heading to Stanley Cup Final

The Bruins will play the winner of the Western Conference Final between the St. Louis Blues or the San Jose Sharks. The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 in San Jose on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS). 

"The way I usually want to play, calm and make myself look big and tough chances try to make look easy," Rask said. "If that's in the zone, then so be it."

Whether or not Rask believes he's in the zone doesn't matter. He's close to matching what he did in 2013 when he carried the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final before losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Rask is 12-5 with two shutouts, a 1.84 goals-against average and .942 save percentage this postseason. He was 12-4 with two shutouts, a 1.75 GAA and .943 save percentage in the first three rounds of the 2013 playoffs.

Video: Rask amongst the greats for most playoff shutouts

Against Carolina Rask was 4-0 with a 1.25 GAA and .956 save percentage. He was 4-0 with a 0.44 GAA and .985 save percentage in the 2013 conference final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I've felt good for many, many months," Rask said. "It's just when you're seeing the puck you feel comfortable. It's about timing, patience and all that. I think experience helps that. You try to stay mentally focused, sharp night in and night out and not get rattled about anything."

Rask has eclipsed one of his accomplishments from 2013 by winning seven consecutive games, including three in a row against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round before the sweep of Carolina, allowing a total of nine goals. 

Video: BOS@CAR, Gm4: Rask snags Pesce's wrist shot

He topped out at five straight wins with three goals against in 2013.

Rask is 10-3 with a .949 save percentage and 1.57 GAA in 13 games since allowing a playoff-high four goals in a 6-4 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 17. In Boston's three series-winning games, Rask faced a total of 96 shots; he had two shutouts and allowed one goal in the other. 

"Just let him be, let him keep doing his thing," Marchand said. "He's giving us an opportunity to win every game. It's why we are where we are."

Coach Bruce Cassidy was around the Bruins in 2013, running workouts for the Black Aces, many of whom played for him with Providence of the American Hockey League. He remembers how impressive Rask was during that run, but said he's seen him play better than what he's done in this postseason. 

"I'll tell you why, it's the urgency of the time of the year," Cassidy said. "We're in the Eastern Conference Final and you see the tough environments."

Members of the goalie fraternity are marveling at Rask too because of how he's doing it, with full control of everything in his repertoire, from technique to the mental part. 

Video: BOS@CAR, Gm4: Rask secures series sweep with shutout

"To me, his center line, vertebrae kind of, doesn't get out of control or off balance when he moves," said former NHL goalie Marty Turco, who played five games with Rask and the Bruins in the 2011-12 season, his last in the NHL. "That allows him to track the puck the best and be upright after each movement to make consecutive saves and moves. He is never out of position due to his balance on his skates and his tracking ability, hence the confidence, absorption of pucks, placement of rebounds and ability to steal games."

Case in point: the first period of Game 3 against Carolina on Tuesday, which was arguably Rask's best period in the playoffs.

Boston knew the Hurricanes would come out aggressively, desperate, looking to push back after a 6-2 loss in Game 2 at TD Garden. It happened as expected and the Bruins had no answer except for Rask, who made 20 saves in the period, 12 on the penalty kill, to keep it 0-0.

Rask said he didn't even see some of the shots, but his positioning was spot on so he stopped them.

"He really hasn't had a poor night," Cassidy said. "He's had a couple that I would say that were above average, the rest have been very good. [Tuesday], the first period, he was excellent. He was the difference."

So much so that Rask left the Hurricanes demoralized going into the intermission, lamenting their inability to put at least one past him in the best period they played in the series. 

It was pretty much the end for Carolina. Rask took away any mojo it might have had.

"He's doing a great job of tracking the puck and with his rebound control," said NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes. "He's in position and his feet are set, and he's on his feet more when pucks are in the corner. He's playing big."

Big enough to get the Bruins back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time this decade. 

Rask watched from the bench in 2011 when Tim Thomas helped Boston win the Stanley Cup. Rask brought the Bruins into the Cup Final in 2013. He had a .932 save percentage (16 goals on 234 shots), but the Bruins couldn't get enough to help him out against the Blackhawks.

The way Rask is trending, it's easy to see why the Bruins will likely be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup regardless if they play St. Louis or San Jose. His candidacy for the Conn Smythe Trophy is not up for debate. 

"He's definitely in the zone," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "He's doing some amazing things."

Grzelcyk said, "He's unbelievable."  

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