Although he may make it look easy, there really isn’t anything simple in Tuukka Rask’s line of work. Standing in front of 100-mile-per-hour slappers and blocking doorstep shovels and pokes isn’t anyone’s idea of an easy day at the office.
But Rask, headed to the Stanley Cup Final after backing Boston’s 1-0 series clincher over the Penguins Friday night, made relatively easy work of rubbing out the postseason’s most powerful offensive machine in four straight victories.
■ He allowed only two goals in the four-game sweep. Given that Game 3 went into overtime, his goals-against average was a paltry 0.44. The Penguins averaged 4.23 goals per game in the previous two rounds then ran into the wall that was Rask.
■ The Penguins landed a total of 136 shots on net, including 26 Friday night, and Rask pushed away, blocked or gloved or otherwise made disappear into thin air 134 of them, including his catch of Jarome Iginla’s 35-foot wrister that ended the series as the clock hit 0:00. Save percentage: .985.
■ He finished the series with two shutouts and now leads all goalies this postsesaon with 12 victories. He has been every bit as good as, and actually better than, Tim Thomas was during the club’s triumphant Cup run in 2011.
■ He stifled a Penguins lineup highlighted by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not allowing either of them a goal. Like the rest of their Pennsylvanian Black-and-Gold brethren, they played their best hockey in the first two periods of Game 1, but Rask’s best in that 40-minute stretch set the tone for the series. They were left wanting that night, left here the same late Friday night, still wanting for goals, and lost for explanations.
“It tells a lot about our team to shut those guys down’’ said Rask, when asked what it meant to blank the two stars — and nearly everyone else in the Pittsburgh lineup.
Thanks in large part to Rask’s airtight goaltending, the Penguins never once held a lead in the four games. In a series that took 275 minutes, 19 seconds to complete, the Penguins finished with 0:00 lead time.
It was the first time since 2009, with Detroit’s sweep of Columbus, that the losing team never managed to take a lead in any of the four games.
More poignant for Boston fans, it was the first time since the Bruins’ four-game sweep of the Maple Leafs in 1969 that they never trailed en route to a sweep. It was that series in which Maple Leaf defenseman Pat Quinn decked Bobby Orr with a vicious elbow in Game 1, leading Garden fans the next night to hang Quinn’s likeness in effigy from the old building’s balcony.
Those were the good old days. The Big Bad Bruins days. They wiped out the Leafs, 24-5, over the four games that year. The win over the Penguins, backed by Rask, brought back a little bit of that old-time feeling.
“The job’s never easy,’’ said Boston captain Zdeno Chara, reflecting on Rask’s handiwork over the last six weeks. “We have confidence in Tuukka and we have confidence in our system. It’s huge when he’s playing well and we have guys blocking shots and you have guys making all sort of huge plays all over the ice — and you have a goaltender making big saves at big moments.’’
Rask, by his own admission, didn’t have the busiest of nights in the clincher. The big push that everyone expected from the Penguins never came. It wasn’t there in Game 2. There were traces of it in Game 3 when the Penguins piled up 54 shots in nearly 100 minutes of play. Other than a couple of brief spurts, including in the 1:35 stretch that Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun vacated his net for an extra skater, the Penguins never showed the surge a champion must show when summer is calling.
“We had a great third period as a team,’’ said Rask, who has earned the nickname Cool Hand Tuke in this postseason, in which he also has backed series wins over Toronto and the Rangers. “I didn’t have much work to do. They really didn’t have many great chances.’’
Rask had all he needed to work with when Adam McQuaid connected on a long slapper at 5:01 of the third for the only goal of the night.
“I didn’t know he had that kind of shot in his bag,’’ said a smiling Rask.
Rask, quietly, efficiently, and effectively, has cobbled together a more impressive postsesaon run than Thomas had in 2011. The biggest difference between the two isn’t numbers but style. Slightly unorthodox and more of a challenger/battler, the feisty Thomas often made dramatic saves, sometimes because he was hurrying back to his cage after being out of position.
Rask, meanwhile, is calm and calculated, more of a clinician in net than a dramatist. He makes solid, impressive saves, rather than daring, helter-skelter blocks and catches. All that ever matters, of course, is making the stop and recording the W. It is almost impossible to make comparisons to the game of 30 or 40 years ago, but Rask’s positioning and efficiency is reminiscent of Montreal great Ken Dryden in the ’70s. He has a knack for seeing the shot develop, moving to the right area, conjuring brick and mortar in an instant.
You could almost hear the Penguins saying, “We can’t beat that big giraffe,’’ as Bruins great Phil Esposito said of Dryden in ’71.
Here in June of 2013, the Bruins are moving on to the final round. It’s the first time they’ve been there twice in three years since facing the Oilers in 1988 and ’90. They’ve made it this far with timely scoring (see Game 7 of the Leafs series), stout and intelligent defense, and as all Cup teams do, on the back of their goalie.
“That’s what you dream about, right?’’ Rask said, when asked what it all means. “It’s been tough, but you know, also fun. I’ve enjoyed it.’’