Tuukka Rask is fine. Or he’s not. He has nagging injuries. Or he’s good to go.
While the goalie’s health has raised speculation over the past week, after he appeared to be laboring in Game 2 on Monday, there was one thing that was clear in Game 3 against the New York Islanders on Thursday: Rask’s play was at its best.
Rask was a significant reason why the Boston Bruins beat the Islanders 2-1 in overtime at Nassau Coliseum, as the Bruins took the lead in their best-of-7 series in the Stanley Cup Second Round.
In a low-scoring duel with the Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov, Rask made 28 saves, with five of them coming in the opening minutes of overtime before Brad Marchand scored at 3:36 to give the Bruins the win.
After the game, Rask did his best to put the speculation to rest.
“It’s always good to have a little extra rest between the games, I guess,” Rask said. “No matter if you’re injured or not. The season has been very hectic overall.
“But as far as my health goes, as long as I’m out there, it’s good enough. That’s the only thing I can say. It didn’t hurt to have those two days.”
Good enough may or may not be reassuring. But if his words were not, his play was.
Especially given that the Bruins went down to five defensemen when Brandon Carlo exited the game at 6:11 into overtime, leaving after a hit by Cal Clutterbuck sent him into the glass behind the Bruins’ net.
But while the Islanders tied the game when Mathew Barzal snuck the puck in between Rask’s skate and the post at 14:34 of the third period, necessitating overtime, that was the sole blemish for the goalie. And he was particularly crucial as it got later in the game.
“Obviously when you have ‘Tuukks’ back there making the saves that he did in overtime, it gives us that confidence to make the play when the time comes,” Marchand said.
There was the breakaway save by Rask on Anthony Beauvillier with 3:16 remaining in regulation. There was the point-blank shot by Barzal off a rebound from a shot by Jordan Eberle at 2:08 of overtime that quite literally saved the game and set up Marchand’s game-winner.
But, for a brief moment this week, there was a question as to whether Rask would even be in net.
While Cassidy said he didn’t believe there was any reason for concern, he also said, “He’s been dealing with some injuries all year. Obviously good enough to play. They’re nagging. Not unique to just Tuukka for that position.”
Rask had injury issues this season. After a start against the New Jersey Devils on March 7, Rask missed six games. He returned for one period against the Islanders on March 25, then missed another 11 games. He bounced back to go 7-1-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in his final nine starts of the regular season.
Eight games into the playoffs, Rask has six wins, plus a 1.93 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. That goals-against average is third-best among the remaining goalies in the playoffs who have made more than one start behind Philipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche (1.66 GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights (1.86).
“He was rock solid,” Cassidy said. “His puck play wasn’t as sharp as it usually is, but that’s not always on the goalie. Those are on the defensemen talking to him on the way back. I don’t know if noise had something to do with it or we weren’t communicating quick enough. … We overcame it.
“Looked really good in overtime. Square to the shooters. Any rebounds, he was resetting. I thought on the PK he held his ice when he had to. So, a lot of good things. I thought it was a great goaltended game by their guy and our guy. That’s why you get a 1-1 into overtime. That’s what you expect in the playoffs.”