The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs have, to this point, belonged to Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. With three of four series under his belt, Rask has firmly positioned himself as the Conn Smythe favorite, with a .942 save percentage and a goals against just over 2. Rask's tear has been the primary reason the Bruins find themselves four wins away from their seventh Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. If they finish the job by vanquishing the St. Louis Blues, Rask's run will go down as one of the greatest in hockey history, right up there with Tim Thomas' fabled 2011 triumph.
What makes Rask's dominance so intriguing is its juxtaposition with his reputation among many, if not the majority of Bruins fans. Long beleaguered in Boston, Rask is seen by many as a nice regular season goaltender, but one who has faded in the biggest moments. Much of this can be attributed to two of the more ignominious defeats in Bruins history, both with Rask in net: the 2010 collapse at the hands of the Flyers, and the 2013 debacle in which the Blackhawks scored two goals in 17 seconds to snatch victory from the hands of defeat. These failures, along with Rask's place as one of the league's highest paid goaltenders, has made him an easy target on sports radio airwaves all over New England. However, a deeper dive into Rask's resume shows that he is one of the elite postseason goalies in the NHL today, and perhaps all time.
In truth, this six-week run of dominance is nothing new for Rask. It is eerily similar to his 2013 campaign, the last time the Bruins made an appearance in the Cup Final. That year, Rask was once again the team's best player, with a blistering .940 save percentage and 1.88 GAA. Most impressive was his Eastern Conference Final domination of the juggernaut of an offensive unit that was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rask shut down Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and co. to the tune of an incomprehensible .985 sv%. In all, Rask allowed two goals in the Bruins' four game sweep. At least, in the record books it will be remembered as a four game sweep. Really, it was closer to five, as Game 3 went into double overtime before Patrice Bergeron put the Penguins out of their misery and essentially ended the series.
Despite his best efforts, Rask's 2013 run will be marred by how it ended. In a city as spoiled with championships as 21st century Boston, any season that does not end in the ultimate prize is often looked upon as a failure. Rask was solid in the Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that was simply in a different stratosphere from the Bruins. His .932 save percentage was one of the major reasons Boston was even able to push the dynastic 'Hawks to six games. The Game 6 collapse can, and should, be blamed on the entire team, but the nature of hockey is that the goaltender will shoulder the majority of the blame whenever things go awry to that extent. Until he wins a Cup in Boston, those 17 seconds will continue to haunt Rask and loom large in the minds of his detractors.
Many goaltenders get hot for a single postseason, and revert to their mean quickly after. However, Rask's career postseason numbers are just as impressive. Of all NHL goaltenders to have played 50 or more postseason games, Rask incredibly ranks 2nd in save percentage with a .928, only trailing the aforementioned Thomas. These stats are in spite of a 2018 postseason which saw the Bruins play two run-and-gun, offensive teams in the Maple Leafs and Lightning. Rask's stats suffered despite solid play, only mustering a .903 save percentage and 2.88 GAA. Even a cursory viewing of either series would be enough for most to realize Rask, while not great, was playing above what those statistics would indicate.
A huge factor that has no doubt impacted Rask's legacy in Boston is one he cannot control. Tim Thomas will forever be a folk hero to Bruins fans for bringing the Cup to Boston for the first time in nearly four decades. He was never going to be an easy act to follow. Making it even harder for Rask is just how much he contrasts in style to Thomas. While his predecessor relied on flashy, acrobatic saves and athleticism, Rask is the opposite, instead succeeding due to impeccable positioning and form. To the casual observer, this gives the impression that Rask is hardly breaking a sweat. This could not be further from the truth of course, but nonetheless makes an impression on a city and a fanbase that has long demanded effort and sacrifice from its athletes.
In the eyes of many, only a championship can prove one's playoff might. Until then, Tuukka Rask will have to fight his long-held reputation as a playoff loser. If that day comes, and it might very soon, where Rask holds Lord Stanley up above his head as the franchise goalie, the city of Boston and the hockey world at large will come around and realize what a special talent he really is, and has always been.