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Rask at his best to save Bruins in Game 6 of Cup Final, McKenna says

Goalie helps force deciding game; things don't go as planned for Binnington, Blues

by Mike McKenna / Special to NHL.com

Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor-league teams. Most recently he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19.  

He knows about the most important position in the playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So NHL.com asked him to share his insights during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In his most recent column, McKenna breaks down Game 6, a 5-1 victory by the Boston Bruins against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Sunday, which forced a deciding Game 7 at TD Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). 

Sometimes you must tip your cap.

Tuukka Rask, take a bow. In the biggest game of the season, with the Boston Bruins in danger of losing the Stanley Cup Final, Rask made 28 saves and turned in one of the best games of his NHL career.

 

[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

At the start of Game 6, the Bruins were on the defensive, allowing several point-blank scoring chances early, including three on a St. Louis Blues power play that began less than three minutes into the game. Rask was able to deny each one, frustrating the Blues and an Enterprise Center crowd that was ready to explode and celebrate. 

He kept the Bruins in the game long enough for them to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play at 8:40 of the first period and take a 1-0 lead, when Brad Marchand one-timed a pass from David Pastrnak past a spread-out Jordan Binnington, who was forced to go side-to-side.

Video: Rask was able to direct pucks out of harm's way

For the St. Louis Blues, it was far from the exclamation point they wanted to put on a Cinderella season by winning the Stanley Cup at home. And for Binnington, it was a night that didn't go as planned.

There's wasn't much he could do about the first goal against. But the second goal was a back-breaker: a bouncing point shot lobbed at the net by defenseman Brandon Carlo that somehow found its way through the 7-hole, between Binnington's arm and body, 2:31 into the third period. For someone who prefers to play at the top of his crease, it was surprising to see him so deep when the puck went past him.

It recalled memories of my youth, when almost every kid played baseball. We learned to take ground balls on the short hop, something that translates well to pucks fluttering toward you while playing goaltender. Even if you can't get right behind the puck when it's due to bounce off the ice, the closer you are, the better chance you have. It always surprises me when I see goaltenders playing this type of scoring chance passively. Then again, not many kids are playing both hockey and baseball any longer.

With the Bruins adding to their lead in the third period, the chips were stacked against Binnington and the Blues, especially with Rask putting on a clinic at the other end of the ice. 

Despite losing Games 4 and 5 of the Final, Rask has steadily gotten better and better as the series has progressed, and Game 6 was without question his shining moment thus far.

It's one thing to turn in a big game during the regular season or early in the playoffs. It's an entirely different animal to do it in Game 6 of the Final with your team one loss away from having its season end and the Stanley Cup in the arena waiting to potentially be presented to your opponent.

For quite some time, Rask has been looking to shake the reputation of not being able to get it done in the playoffs. While the stats largely disagree with that notion, Rask's postseason play has been a lightning rod for criticism from Bruins fans.

This year is different. If the Bruins win, Rask is the clear-cut frontrunner to win the Conn Smythe as the most valuable player of the playoffs. His numbers are gaudy, with a 1.93 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. In Game 6, his crisp movements beat almost every pass, he was patient on his edges, and he gobbled up rebounds. The only time Rask was beaten -- a rebound goal by Ryan O'Reilly at 12:01 of the third period -- he made a miraculous pad save, only to have video replay confirm that the puck had crossed the goal line before Rask kicked it out.

It may have taken him a couple games to knock off the rust after the 10-day layoff before the Final began, but Rask has looked incredibly focused and determined since. 

Binnington, who allowed four goals on 31 shots, may not have been the best version of himself in Game 6, but he's shown the ability to bounce back after every loss and catapult his team to victory.

It only seems appropriate that the last professional hockey game of 2019 will be Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Each team is (pardon the pun) shipping up to Boston one last time, with everything on the line Wednesday. 

May the best team win.

Video: Can Jordan Binnington bounce back in Game 7?

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