No longer expect these Bruins to fall, only to soar

Rask/By S. Bradley

Rask/By S. Bradley

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask fell down, and you wanted to laugh.

It’s just that Carl Hagelin’s goal that crossed the line Thursday in New York while Rask was on his rear end breathed life into the New York Rangers, who went on to an overtime win that pushed the Eastern Conference Semifinals to a Game 5.

There was no time to enjoy Rask’s flop. Only time to get scared of what might lie ahead. The Rask fall could’ve been the start of another epic collapse. The ghosts of 2010 arose to walk again in the Bruins’ dressing room upon the team’s return to Boston, as they always will for as long as Rask is a Bruin and the team has enough success to take a 3-0 lead in the series.

You might’ve thought those demons were drowned in the first round with the Bruins outlasting the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games. But it took three chances for the Bruins to end the Maple Leafs’ upset bid, and a 10-minute rally and overtime that will go down in Bruins’ folklore as one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history regardless of how the 2013 Stanley Cup championship run ends.

Well, as Bruins coach Claude Julien said after his team ousted the Rangers with a 3-1 win Saturday in Game 5 at TD Garden, “it gives Tuukka the opportunity now to laugh about that goal instead of crying, right?”

The Bruins can laugh, sing and dance, finally. They’re in the Stanley Cup semifinals for the second time in three years. This time around, they’ve done it with Rask in their crease instead of Tim Thomas. It’s been three years since Rask came so close to a third-round berth and failed to carry the team there. Injuries, exhaustion and fate did the Bruins in that time. This time around, Boston would not be denied.

“Yeah I mean you know, you go into the third period with a 2-1 lead. And as I said, as a goalie you expect to make one or two big saves, and today it happened,” Rask said. “I didn’t feel bad about myself after Game 4. Obviously there was a little screw up there with that goal. But I didn’t let that bother me, and I felt like I played a decent game after that. Coming in today I just wanted to be rock-solid back there, and give our team a chance to win the game.”

Rask was rock-solid, and, pretty much, everyone else was too. The Bruins played this Game 5 like it was a Game 7. In some ways, it was a do-or-die game. The longer a series goes, the crazier things can get. The Bruins don’t need to look back too far to learn that lesson. By the time they won Game 7 against Toronto, they were down to five defensemen available to play in the game and had three veterans blueliners on the shelf for almost the entire Rangers series.

“I’m proud of everybody,” center Gregory Campbell said. “Looking back to Game 7 against the Leafs with eight minutes to go, it’s really hard to predict we’d be in this position now, but with the character we have on this team and the experience and the leadership, I think we’re very deserving of being here. We’ve had some ups and downs throughout the year, and we’ve handled it well and really worked hard to get to this position.

Combine these two series wins with the four from 2011, and it might be time to stop looking at the gloomy side of this era in Bruins hockey. Sure they lost to lower-seeded teams in seven games in 2009 and 2012. The 2010 disaster will always be a major highlight of NHL history everywhere but Boston. But the Bruins have now won eight playoff series in the last five seasons. They have a Cup and are eight wins away from a second one. Facing the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t an ideal matchup, but no one can say the Bruins have no chance, nor can anyone say the Bruins aren’t going to push the Penguins to be their best in order to prevail.

Sometimes the Bruins make things hard on themselves. They also seem to be at their best when things are difficult. Laugh about the Rask flop, celebrate the win against the Rangers. Most of all, appreciate that just six years ago the Bruins were a laughingstock. Now, just like general manager Peter Chiarelli wanted, this team is considered a perennial winner like Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Rask showed he could get up and march on. His teammates fell in line behind him. There’s no reason to doubt these Bruins can do anything they set their minds to.

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