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Tara Sullivan

In Game 6 shutout, there was no denting Tuukka Rask’s ironclad brilliance in net

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask made 39 saves in the series-clinching Game 6 victory.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara was the first one to turn and head toward his own goal late Monday night, certain as he was the final seconds were ticking away in this final second-round playoff game against the Blue Jackets and there was no longer any suspense for the outcome, eager as he was to thank the man most responsible for clinching Boston’s ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.

Chara skated straight into Tuukka Rask’s crease and straight into a hug with his veteran teammate, and within moments, the two Bruins were encircled by the rest of the roster, all of them waiting for their turn at Rask, the man who had just owned that space so completely and so dominantly that the hometown Blue Jackets never had a chance at extending this series to a seventh game. If we’ve seen the best of the Bruins across these past three games, three straight victories topped by Monday’s 3-0 shutout to pave the way to the franchise’s first conference final appearance since 2013, we’ve seen it because we’ve seen the best of a goaltender who has found ways to top himself night after night, this time with a 39-save shutout.


So on the Bruins go now, ahead to a Hurricanes team idling since its sweep of the Islanders, into the penultimate step to a Stanley Cup journey that has felt at times almost inevitable, when the first-round carnage left Boston as the top remaining seed in the conference, at times almost impossible, down three different times to Toronto in the first round, down 2-1 again in this series against a streaking Columbus team anchored by its own outstanding goaltender.

But if Bob – otherwise known as Sergei Bobrovsky – stole the headlines in those first three games, Rask rose up to eclipse him in the last three, a quiet, confident human brick wall with a little dose of street fight thrown in. Undeterred by the opponents flying into his kitchen, unflappable in the face of the pucks flying at his face, and unbowed by the doubts that have long been cast his way, Rask was here to remind you this is the kind of play that wins Cups.


“Outstanding again,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, wearing the look of a man delighted to get his team past the hurdle that tripped them up last postseason, but one barely ready to concede this journey is over yet. He wants more, and the way his offense shrugged off a disallowed goal in the first period and nursed a 1-0 lead through the second, the way his special teams withstood an ugly penalty by defenseman Charlie McAvoy and killed the two-minute disadvantage just the way they’d killed off three other Columbus power plays, the way his roster burst out of the tunnel and put Columbus immediately on its heels essentially putting a mute button on a sold out Nationwide Arena, and ultimately, the way the entire team rallied to add two third-period insurance goals, he believes he can get it.

It all starts with Rask.

“You need your goalie to deliver,” Cassidy said. “I think that’s stating the obvious. He did. He keeps us in the games. He looks real composed. They’ve been bumping him. They hit him hard tonight going to the net, they got called for it. He kept his composure. I think there was some gamesmanship most teams go through to try and get a goalie off his game. He was able to play through that as well.


“He was definitely our most consistent player throughout the whole series. We had guys give us good performances game to game but he was there every night. He deserves whatever accolades come to him. I’m proud of him.”

Remember, this was a man who was supposed to have been “dented” by the small flurry of goals he surrendered in Saturday night’s wild third period back at TD Garden, a flurry that came about more from bad luck and bad bounces than bad play, but that emboldened Columbus coach John Tortorella to opine Monday morning that Rask’s armor had been weakened. Except the only thing that ended up dented Monday were the posts of Rask’s net, the only sliver of space he seemed to leave available for Blue Jacket shooters.

“You should know by now I don’t read any comments,” Rask smiled afterward, insisting the postgame question about Tortorella’s comments were the first time he’d heard them. “It didn’t affect me.

“It’s the playoffs. Mind games, always. That’s entertaining. Entertainment industry, I guess. That’s what the fans and media want. When I’m playing, I don’t read it. But when I’m a spectator, I like to read it because it’s entertaining.”

Was it really only a postseason ago Rask was tossing his skate blade across the ice? He seems so different this time around, so much calmer, more in control not simply of his game, but of his mind.


Asked if he’s playing the best hockey of his life, he answered simply, “I feel good. Yeah. You guys can make that call. I just try to, game-by-game, be there.”

A follow up about earning a reputation as a big-game goalie, one a certain Boston fan base has long questioned he would ever own, earned a smile, but not much else. “Better than sucking I guess,” he said. “It’s like, you play enough in this league, regular season, playoffs, you gain that experience, and you learn to think it’s not all about you, you don’t have to do anything spectacular. It’s a team sport and you play for each other. That’s helped me a lot.”

So that’s something you’re better at now than in the past? “Oh for sure yeah. It’s maturity, experience.”

Cassidy, in his second full season and third overall, has been a happy witness to the evolution. Even as his team hung onto that slim one-goal advantage, the coach never doubted it would be enough.

“Just the way [Rask] was going,” the coach said. “You’re not sitting there trying to nurse it by any means, but I wasn’t worried about Tuukka. You could tell this whole playoff he’s been a real good place, consistent. Solid. No issues. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything. He really seems to be in his own zone right now where he’s just going to go out and stop the puck, not worried about all the banging in the crease or goals disallowed, any of that stuff. He’s done a terrific job for us in that regard. Hope it continues.”


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.