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In the zone.
That’s where you want a goalie during the NHL playoffs. And Tuukka Rask is there, even if he doesn’t know exactly how to define it.
"Being in the zone, nobody knows what that means," the Boston Bruins goalie said. “It’s just … it looks [like] that. The way I usually want to play, I want to play calm and make myself look big. And maybe even make it look easy.”
Rask may look big, but he’s a wiry 6-foot-3 in street clothes. He’s also easygoing, someone who takes the good and the bad in stride.
Right now, it’s almost all good with Rask snaring shots out of thin air or blocking them with a shoulder or a leg pad — or really any body part available.
At 32, Rask is playing the best hockey of his 12-year career. He’s the current favorite to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. And the way he plays in the Stanley Cup Final — which starts Monday — will go a long way toward determining whether the Bruins dispatch the St. Louis Blues and win the Cup.
During the postseason, Rask has allowed just 32 goals in 17 games. And he’s posted an eye-popping .942 save percentage and two series-clinching shutouts.
So, does it feel differently when you’re posting playoff numbers like that, when you’re in that kind of zone? According to Rask, it doesn’t.
“I’ve felt good for many, many months,” Rask said. “It’s just the way you’re seeing the puck. You feel comfortable. So, you try to stay mentally focused and sharp, night in and night out, and not get rattled about anything.”
That’s true even when the shots come one after another, like they did during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
In the first period, Rask made 20 saves. That's closer to what you’d expect for an entire game, not a single period.
“[He’s] such a calming presence for us,” said Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy after the game. “Tuukka stood tall for us. [He] allowed us to come in in intermission, 0-0, and reset.”
The Bruins head into the Stanley Cup Final on a seven-game winning streak. And coach Bruce Cassidy knows they couldn’t have done it without Rask between the pipes.
“Tuukka’s been very consistent,” Cassidy said. “Usually, if you’re gonna get on a roll, your goaltender is gonna have to, I don’t know if you say, win a game for you somewhere along the line or steal one, whatever you want to use. But he’s gonna have to be there for you. He can’t have a bad night.”
Why hasn’t Rask suffered through a bad night? It goes back to the regular season, when Cassidy managed the goaltender’s workload.
Rask finished this regular season with 45 starts. That’s a career low for him as a starter (not counting the lockout-shortened 2013 season). Jaroslav Halak, a former NHL All-Star, essentially split goaltending duties with Rask.
The result: Rask entered the playoffs fresher than ever. And he has Halak to thank for that.
“He’s been such a big part of our group, Jaro, all year,” Rask said. “I’ve been on that side, not playing in the playoffs. He’s been, like I said, a really big part of our group. And I’m happy he’s my partner.”
Rask, the Bruins’ all-time leader in games played by a goalie, knows what to expect in Game 1 on Monday night. And he knows how to handle high expectations.
In 2011, Rask had a front row seat for goaltender Tim Thomas’ historic playoff run to victory. In 2013, Rask was in net when the Bruins lost the final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Now, he’s got another chance to win the trophy as the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender.
"Every year is a new year,” Rask said. “You always think you have a chance. I think the past few years we’ve really built something special. We have a great group of guys. Really just happy to be part of that."
The Bruins do have a great group of players who are peaking at just the right time.
But if Boston wins the Cup, one big reason will be because Rask was in the zone.
This segment aired on May 24, 2019.
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