The 2018-19 NHL season comes down to one final game between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Many players in the National Hockey League envisioned themselves playing for hockey’s ultimate prize as a young kid growing up on frozen ponds. Brad Marchand, who first lived that dream in 2011, is no exception.
“I think that every hockey player at one point in their life has dreamed to be in a position like this. But it’s much different when you are going through it and realizing how exciting and how hard it is,” Marchand said about embarking on his second career Game 7 of the Cup Final. “We just have so much more appreciation for what we’ve been through and the road we have taken to get here. It’s a very special opportunity regardless of how it plays out tomorrow. It’s been a special adventure with this group and hopefully, it ends on a high note.”
Game 7 can make any ordinary player into a folk hero in any scenario, let alone a Stanley Cup Final. Marchand found that out first hand eight years ago when he tallied a three-point night in Vancouver to snap Boston’s 39-year Cup drought.
If you’re searching for a hero this season, look no further than Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The 32-year-old netminder has been nothing but sensational during this playoff run, posting a 15-8-0 record with a .938 save percentage and a mere 1.93 goals against average.
Those numbers are, obviously, quite impressive. But Rask elevated his game to a new level in high-stakes scenarios. The Finn stood tall in every clinching and elimination game as evident by his stellar Game 6 outing in St. Louis. He improved to 5-0 with an astonishing .974 save percentage and a 0.80 goals against average in games where the Bruins either faced elimination or a clinching outcome.
.@Bmarch63 and @tuukkarask hit the podium ahead of Game 7: "It’s been a special adventure with this group. Hopefully it ends on a good note….it’s gonna be a very hard-fought battle." pic.twitter.com/T2ZfmWjwMs— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 11, 2019
Sunday marked the second time this postseason where the Bruins faced a 3-2 series deficit. The first time came during their opening round series against a skilled Maple Leafs bunch. Rask kept Boston’s season alive in both instances, stopping 24 of 26 shots against Toronto back in late April and 28 of St. Louis’ 29 shots on net a few days ago.
“He was the best player on the ice,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said numerous times following Sunday’s win.
Rask’s prior postseason performances in the clutch — or lack thereof depending on who you talk to — provided ammo for his detractors during his Boston tenure. The 2014 Vezina Winner, who backed up Tim Thomas in that fateful playoff run, came up short in 2013 against the Blackhawks after allowing two goals in 17 seconds late in the third period of Game 6. The one accomplishment alluding Rask is that elusive Cup victory as Boston’s primary goaltender.
But Rask rewrote his postseason narrative with a Conn Smythe-like effort during the last few months. Now he has a chance to put the finishing touches on his impressive 2019 playoff run
“I’ve always thought he’s been one of the elite goaltenders in the league,” Bruce Cassidy said about his netminder. “Winning championships cements that.”
“No worries. I don’t think you play this long and battle hard just to come here and start worrying,” Rask said about the Game 7 challenge. “It’s a game. You go out and execute and hopefully you play your best game.”
Rask’s excellent rebound control and awareness to make the initial and subsequent saves gave the Bruins a chance to win every playoff game. He needs one more stellar performance — to go along with timely scoring from his teammates — to hoist the Cup for the second time in his career.