It’s time, Tuukka.
Time to make the saves you should make as well as the ones in which a defensive blunder gives you a ready-made excuse to not make them.
Time to reprise your most sensational and dependable performances of your 46-game postseason career — perhaps the 1-0 shutout in the clinching Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year against the allegedly mighty Pittsburgh Penguins. Or the 2-0 blanking of the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Cup Final last June in which you stopped all 28 shots. A repeat of your performance in the fifth game of this series would be swell.
Time to cast aside the shadow of Tim Thomas, your quirky predecessor, who never had your pure, conventional goaltending talent but does have one accomplishment that remains absent from your resume: He’s backstopped a Stanley Cup-winning team.
That’s a huge difference, sure, and one Rask should have every opportunity to match and even surpass. He is more experienced than we typically acknowledge, but he is 10 years younger now than Thomas was when he pumped up his tires and led the Bruins to three Game 7 victories (over Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver, as if you require the reminder) en route to the Cup.
Rask has now been the Bruins’ primary goaltender during three playoff runs. His first, during the blown 3-0 lead to the Flyers in 2009-10, is easily set aside. It was his first rodeo, and the series pivoted when David Krejci (and Dennis Seidenberg) got hurt and Simon Gagne returned.
His other two — last year and this season so far — look remarkably similar statistically to Thomas’s 2010-11 postseason performance. Here’s a postseason-and-a-half of Tuukka:
And Thomas’s final 2010-11 line:
Like I said, remarkably similar. And yet that chief difference remains glaring as the Bruins host the Canadiens, worthy and worrisome foe, we must begrudgingly admit, in a sure-to-be-epic, win-or-go-home match tonight.
He hasn’t done it … yet.
As Fluto Shinzawa noted this morning, this is the Bruins’ ninth Game 7 since 2008. Rask is one of six Bruins who have been here for all of them. It will be the third one in which he has started in net — there was the 4-3 Game 7 loss to the Flyers in ’09 in which the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead in the game as well as the series. Last year in the first round, Rask and the Bruins spotted the Maple Leafs a 4-1 third-period lead before their ridiculous rally to win in overtime.
There’s no way around it. That is not a particularly comforting docket of big-game performances by Rask so far, and that’s without considering that the Bruins lost the final three games in the finals last year, including Game 6 when they had a lead with less than two minutes left.
He needs this tonight, for his team and for his own legacy. If the Bruins lose, there will be questions about whether Rask, a terrific goalie, is all he can be this time of year. He needs to be better than counterpart Carey Price. He needs to make the impossible stops along with the rudimentary ones. He cannot allow the first goal.
We’re not asking Rask to be perfect the rest of this postseason. Heck, it’s easy to forget now, but Thomas allowed five goals in four different games during the Lightning series in 2011. He had his hiccups too. But when they needed him most, in that hat trick of Game 7s, he delivered, allowing a total of three goals, with shutouts in the game that got them to the Stanley Cup Finals and in the game that brought the Cup back to Boston.
Rask needs to be just as brilliant tonight as Thomas was then, or hell, as Henrik Lundqvist was last night. That’s the duty of great goalies during this gloriously tense time of year. Rask is a great goalie. The time is now for some Canadien-eliminating confirmation.