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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Tuukka Rask Has to Be Better Against Montreal, Even if History Suggests He Won't Be

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After allowing only six goals to the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the first round of the NHL Playoffs, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask has already given up 11 over three games to the Montreal Canadiens in a series which the Bruins trail, 2-1. Getty Images

Two “U’s,” Two “K’s,” and a percolating concern.

It’s not like everyone with even a shred of patience is calling for backup Chad Johnson to get the call, but Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask’s career numbers against the Montreal Canadiens are catching up with Boston’s Vezina Trophy finalist.

After Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss in Montreal, Rask is now 4-12-3 in his career against the Canadiens. The only other team that can boast such dominance over one of the best goaltenders in the NHL? That would be nobody.

When it comes time to list the reasons why the Bruins find themselves in a 2-1 hole in their playoff series against the Habs, Rask is somewhere down on the list after Team Turnover and the APB put out on David Krejci. But he’s definitely on the list, and his struggles against Montreal, which went under the radar to a degree heading into the series, have continued with little room for encouragement.

To get a handle on Montreal’s dominance over Rask, consider the goalie’s regular-season record of 102-60. Almost 17 percent of his losses have come against the Canadiens, despite the fact that he’s played only 17 of 196 regular-season games against them, less than nine percent. The Canadiens, in fact, have beaten Rask almost as many times in the regular season as the entire Western Conference (24-11).

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It’s a résumé that hasn’t gotten any brighter the deeper we peer into May either. Saturday was Rask’s first win against the Canadiens at the TD Garden, and even that took a flurry of improbability to deliver. The goaltender, who said he played like “$%&#” in the Game 1, double overtime loss, a gross exaggeration of his team’s lost chances against Carey Price, did indeed play something closer to it in Game 3, most notably when he was beaten five-hole by the chest-thumping Dale Weise, he of six goals during a regular season split between Vancouver and Montreal. Dale freaking Weise.

I’m not a goalie by profession, but don’t you have to stop that if you’re to be considered an elite goaltender? Don’t you have to?

“I don’t think we played bad,” Rask said in the wake of the Game 3 loss. “We just made stupid mistakes that ended up costing us the game.”

Well that's a change in assessment. From "%#$&" to what essentially boils down to “comme ci, comme ça.”

"Just mentally we've got to be more prepared. Making those mistakes and giving the opposite team the lead, that's not a good thing every night," Rask said. "I think we have to be mentally sharper and do the things we talk about.”

The first Montreal goal on Tuesday clearly wasn't Rask's fault. Jarome Iginla's head might as well have been checking in at the Turcot Exchange during that instance because it certainly wasn't in the game, leaving Tomas Plekanec wide open to receive Thomas Vanek’s easy pass. The result was a goal that only Milan Lucic would miss.

But the P.K. Subban breakaway coming out of the penalty box? Rask is among those to blame for the breakdown for not tapping his stick on the Bell Center ice as time expired on the Boston power play. Weise? Rask was used. By a fourth-liner nonetheless.

It's not like Claude Julien should hope for what befell Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings when starting goalie Jimmy Howard came down with the "flu" in last month's series against the Bruins, but Rask needs to be better than he's been in this series if Boston has any aspirations of advancing to the next round. He needs to be more than what he's proven to be historically against the Canadiens. Much more.

Of course, Rask's troubles against Montreal are indicative of his team's as a whole. Still, his regular season .908 save percentage is lowest among teams he's faced at least 10 times in his career, and his 2.63 GAA against the Canadiens is more than a half-goal worse than his overall average. Then again, numbers against the opposition didn't matter much against the Red Wings last round, albeit with a smaller sampling size heading into the matchup (1-4, .868 save percentage, 3.51 GAA) in which he surrender only six goals over five games.

There are aspects to the Habs' approach that Rask simply doesn't deal well with, and they have shown at various points over the first three games if this series. It's not only Montreal's much-ballyhooed speed that works against the Bruins' defensive corps, but the Habs' propensity to shoot the puck with a reaction time that directly rivals the Bruins' all-too-often, all-too-cute approach, has burned Rask. At the other end, Price might as well have time to go make a sandwich in the time it takes the likes of Lucic to release.

When scoring first this postseason, the Canadiens are a perfect 5-0. During the regular season, they were 37-3-5, one of the best marks in the NHL (Conversely, the Bruins are 4-0 in the postseason, 41-6-2 in the regular season). There's little revelation that Boston’s need to put the first score up on the board Thursday night in Game 4 is of utmost importance lest they hope to avoid the havoc and potential for neutral zone turnovers that have snakebitten them so far. Mind you, of the 180 minutes of hockey played so far between these two teams, the Bruins have held the lead for less than 12 minutes. They're essentially a short "Tweezer" away from never having had the lead at all. If they don't turn that around, it's going to be "cold, cold, cold" indeed.

That's on the skaters in front of Rask, but it's up to the big boy Vezina daddy to keep them there should they accomplish their mission, something he already failed to do in Game 2.

“We’re a group that’s confident but we also have guys right now that are frustrated with themselves,” Julien said. “They have to be better. They are going to be better [Thursday]. That’s the confidence we have in our group. We’ve got to rely on those guys to come in and play the way they can … it’s a 2-1 series. It’s not the end of the world here. We’ve just got to battle back. There is no reason to panic."

It's not your time just yet, Mr. Johnson. The same can't be said for his teammates, who could be staring at the final two games if the season if things don't pick up in Montreal Thursday night.


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