The Carolina Hurricanes are in the middle of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins. Through the first three games, all of which they have lost, they have had no answer for Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Solving Rask is elusive, and something the Hurricanes better figure out soon.
Rask Rewinding Hurricanes’ December Blues in May
Watching the Hurricanes Tuesday night in Game 3 was like watching them in the last part of 2018. At the start of the season they were forechecking like fiends, rushing their opponents’ zones and blasting away with shot after shot. The problem was they were not scoring.
Fast forward to Tuesday night’s Game 3 on Carolina’s home ice and they were forechecking like fiends, rushing the Bruins’ zone and blasting away with shot after shot. The problem was Rask, who made save after save and kept the Bruins goal shut tight. It was as if he was showing highlights from the Hurricanes’ play from December, only this time he was in the starring role.
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Rask’s Numbers are Sick
A look at Rask’s numbers against the Hurricanes is laughable. He has given up five goals over three games. He has stopped 85 of 90 shots for a .944 save percentage. Through the playoffs, he is 11-5 with a save percentage of .939 and goals-against average of 1.96. In case anyone is wondering, that’s very good.
Rask is playing somewhat over his head compared to his career stats, but not by much. His career save percentage is .921 and goals-against average is 2.28. To put it simply, Rask is playing well enough in these playoffs to carry his Bruins all the way to the Stanley Cup. Of course, he cannot win it all on his own, but the most crucial part of a playoff team’s success is between the pipes and Rask is holding that down in elite fashion.
Rask is Demoralizing the Hurricanes
Kevin Paul Dupont wrote Wednesday at BostonGlobe.com, “It’s a good bet, no matter what the Hurricanes say, that he crushed their spirit like the last dry tobacco leaf in an open field with his 20 stops in the first period Tuesday…He blocked, swatted, steered, gloved or cleared everything they fired his way. Twenty shots in all, and another 13 attempts that didn’t make it to the net,” (from ‘He’s just in a zone.’ How Tuukka Rask has dominated the postseason’ – Kevin Paul Dupont – Boston Globe – May 15, 2019).
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the game that his team needed to get something out of that first-period onslaught, and that to not score any points was, “a little demoralizing.”
Barry Petchetsky wrote that the Hurricanes finally did not stink, in an article he posted Wednesday at deadspin.com: “Carolina opened with maybe its single best period of hockey all year. They swarmed like hornets and rained pucks on-goal like hellfire. They outskated, outmuscled, and outsmarted their Bruins counterparts throughout.” But they got nothing for all of that effort. Why not? Petchetsky summed it up, “Tuukka Rask stopped everything.”
Is Rask in the Hurricanes’ Head?
On Wednesday, Brind’Amour met with the media and fielded a question about Rask being in his team’s head. He answered, “That’s more something you guys like to say…You’re certainly not worrying about the goalie. You’re worrying about how to get chances to get to the goalie…He’s [Rask} dialed in. He’s dialed in and we’ve got to really try to make it hard on him.” That is an honest answer, especially that Rask is dialed in.
In Game 3 the Hurricanes had chances to get to the goalie. They played lights-out hockey in the first period. Rask was insanely dialed in. The question now is can they play like that again and hope that the results will be different? Or is Rask just too “dialed in” at this point?
The Hurricanes may only have one more chance in these playoffs to get Rask undialed. They had better make the most of it Thursday night at home. If they can get to him then the tide of this series may turn. If not, they can look at this season and these playoffs with a good feeling for what they accomplished, and a hunger to do more next season.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.