Barring a collapse of epic proportions in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night, Tuukka Rask may have already secured his legacy.
Entering the Cup Final, no single member of the Boston Bruins was under more pressure to deliver than the veteran goaltender from Finland. Even though his .925 save percentage (SV%) vs. the St. Louis Blues through six games is his lowest out of any of Boston’s four series this spring, his performance in Game 6 – 28 saves on 29 shots, with the Bruins facing elimination – likely secured Rask’s spot atop of the Conn Smythe Trophy race as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins have faced elimination three times now this postseason (twice in the first round vs. Toronto and Sunday vs. the Blues), and Rask has posted a sterling .956 SV% and given up a grand total of four goals over 180 minutes of game action.
If you think those are dominant, check out his splits in closeout games like the one Boston has coming up at the TD Garden: Rask turned away 95 of the 96 total shots in faced between Game 7 vs. Toronto, Game 6 vs. Columbus and Game 4 vs. Carolina for a .990 SV%, allowing just one goal over the three starts. The B’s, of course, are 3-0 in said games.
It speaks to the confidence Bruins fans should have in Rask at the moment. A performance in like that in Game 7 vs. St. Louis should all but sign, seal and deliver the Stanley Cup title to Boston.
But what if the offense lets Rask down, and the Bruins lose, say, 1-0?
The world’s smallest of consolation prizes would still head Rask’s way, in all likelihood – especially if Ryan O’Reilly is held off the scoreboard in Game 7. O’Reilly, the Blues’ answer to Patrice Bergeron, has made a spirited run at the Smythe with four goals and three assists in the Cup Final, all four of his goals coming since Game 4.
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Will a Conn Smythe in a losing effort be enough to silence Rask’s critics? Perhaps, perhaps not. Each side of the argument would be entitled to dig in further, with Rask’s detractors pointing to his 0-3 lifetime record in Game 7s against teams not named the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rask’s numbers may not quite be in line with the last goalie to win the Smythe in a losing effort in J.S. Giguere, who had a 1.62 goals against average and .945 SV% for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003, but his overall marks of 1.93 and .938 are still nothing short of elite and still so much better than St. Louis netminder Jordan Binnington’s 2.52 GAA/.911 SV% this postseason that it tilts the scales in Rask’s favor even more.
Discussing a scenario in which Rask wins the Conn Smythe in a losing effort before Game 7 even happens seems silly, but the trophy will be awarded shortly after the final whistle blows on Wednesday. Now is the only time to lay it out.
The truth is, the way Binnington looked in the third period of Game 6, the Bruins may not even need Rask to be at his very best to come away with the Cup. Beach Ball Binnington returned over the final 20 minutes on Sunday, when the Stanley Cup was in the building and the Blues had a chance to clinch their first championship in the franchise’s 51-year history.
The goal Binnington gave up to Brandon Carlo 2:31 into the third period was inexcusable for a team that still trailed just 1-0 in a nip and tuck affair.
It’s also the kind of goal Rask has avoided giving up throughout this postseason. So long as he keeps that trend alive, Rask is on the verge of immortality, one way or the other.
The Conn Smythe will only embolden Rask’s Hockey Hall of Fame credentials, already strong-to-quite strong given where he stands on numerous leaderboards in both the regular and postseasons.
Finishing the job with a win, however, makes Rask forever untouchable in Boston. His No. 40 jersey will go to the rafters. Bringing up the Andrew Raycroft-for-Rask swap around Maple Leafs fans won’t come with any caveats.
Rask is one win away from laying legitimate claim to the title of the best goaltender to ever suit up for the Boston Bruins without any rebuttal.
Factually, he already might be.