Tuukka Rask has had his share of gaffes in the Stanley Cup playoffs and regular season.
However, he never had one like what Washington’s Ilya Samsonov endured Wednesday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup first round at TD Garden — at least not at such a crucial point of a vital game.
Samsonov’s misplayed handoff to defenseman Justin Schultz turned into Craig Smith’s game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory that gave Boston a series lead heading into Friday’s Game 4.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 20, 2021
All Rask could do is watch from the other end of the building and then celebrate with his teammates.
“Well I think personally it’s always when you get it, the sooner you get rid of it the better it is,” Rask explained, doling out advice Samsonov could’ve used about 45 minutes earlier. “Obviously communication plays a part in that. You know when you play overtime, double overtime, the fatigue’s gonna start playing a part of it too. So a lot goes into it, but yeah, tough bounce.”
Imagine the barrage of insults that would’ve gone Rask’s way had the Bruins lost a game in similar fashion. Well you don’t have to imagine it because after Game 1, when Nic Dowd’s tip bounced off Rask’s chest and then through his five-hole, a portion of the population of Bruins fans — ones that never took a physics course — couldn’t understand how the puck had spun in and wanted the franchise leader in goalie victories to be benched in favor of rookie Jeremy Swayman.
Luckily for the Bruins, coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t base his decisions on the whims of nitwits. Heading into Game 2, Cassidy said the net was Rask’s. All the 34-year-old has done in return is provide the Bruins a .934 save percentage and two overtime victories.
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Admittedly, the Bruins made his job easier Wednesday. After getting outshot 9-3 in the third period, the Bruins turned the tables 19-8 against Washington after regulation. Sometimes, though, that’s the scenario that winds up going south on the team dominating play, when a goalie that’s not being tested faces a golden opportunity and lets it by him. Or worse, a funky bounce victimizes a goalie that’s not paying attention.
Rask has had his share of embarrassing moments. He’s gone a little bonkers about shootout goals against and goals scored after he’s lost his skate blade. There was the famous “Rask gaffe” in the 2013 playoffs against the Rangers.
And then there was the game this season, oddly enough against the Rangers again, when he went to the bench in a tie game thinking the Bruins were trailing and needed an extra attacker.
“Well you know you’re just trying to stay focused because at some point they’re going to get a shot,” Rask said. “It’s just a matter of what kind of a scoring chance or shot it’s going to be. You know they only had a couple, but we played really good in the OT I think. We probably were the better team.”
He’s been where Samsonov was Wednesday, and the Rask detractors are all too quick to point those mistakes out every time the Bruins lose one of his starts — because every loss is his fault, every win is a team effort, in many minds across New England.
Rask now has a .926 save percentage in a series against the regular season’s seventh-best offense. There’s no guarantee he won’t make a blatant error as soon as the next game, but it would be a bigger mistake to think he doesn’t give the Bruins the best chance to win among their current goalies.