BOSTON – The Bruins can hope that winger Mark Recchi wasn’t just getting carried away in the hoopla of a first-round playoff series victory over Buffalo and rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask’s 2.18 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in the six-game triumph when he started comparing the Boston puck-stopper to a Conn Smythe winner.
“That’s incredible,” the 42-year-old two-time Stanley Cup champion Recchi said. “I saw it in ’06 in Carolina with Cam Ward [when the Hurricanes won the Cup]. When they’re technically sound as these young guys are and they believe in what they do, they can stay composed because they are so structurally sound as goalies and he doesn’t let anything bother him.
“He just plays the game. He doesn’t let that goal bother him. He just plays the next one and competes.”
All Rask did tonight was stop 27 of 30 shots in a 4-3 win in his second career NHL playoff clinching opportunity. He bounced back from a rough Game 5 (every Bruins player had a rough night), and fought through the desperation of Buffalo, which was throwing everything it could, including bodies, toward the Bruins crease all series.
“Obviously, it takes a lot of energy and sometimes you got to battle through things,” he said after the series-ending win. “We really showed character in this locker room and we battled through it and got this big win.”
Rask’s counterpart for Buffalo Ryan Miller will probably take home the Vezina Trophy in June. But he finished second to Rask in GAA and save percentage during the regular season and came up short against the young Finn in a best-of-seven format.
“As good as he was, he was also facing, arguably, the best goaltender in the league, if not more,” head coach Claude Julien said. “He certainly made a great reputation for himself and was outstanding this year. We’re talking about Miller here. For him to go up against him and at least go head-to-head, and in every game both goaltenders played well, and to come out the winner, I think it speaks volumes for how Tuukka reacted and how well he’s played.”
Maybe somewhere down the road Rask will get the better of Miller in an Olympic venue. For now he’ll have to be content with a first-round playoff series victory to go with his regular-season statistical triumphs. Rask, however, didn’t gloat about beating the world’s previously hottest netminder.
“You know, playing against that kind of goalie, it’s never easy to score goals,” said Rask. “If you don’t get traffic and make those plays we did today, you’re not going to score on him. He played really good games, but as a goalie, you know that there are shots you can’t stop. No matter how good you are, if you can’t see the puck, you’re not going to stop it.
“That’s what we had to do and today especially we did a good job with that. I give (Miller) credit, he played a heck of a series.”
But a heck of a series wasn’t enough to prevent Boston from advancing to the second round. If Rask is in fact the next Cam Ward, as Recchi made the semi-comparison, there will be three more goaltending battles to conquer on the way to the Cup. Maybe none will be as difficult as the showdown with Miller was in round one.