Far be it for anyone to ever accuse local media of bigging up their hometown guys, but the way the press in Boston talked about Sergei Bobrovsky coming into this series, you’d have thought he was the Bruins’ Vezina candidate.
So overdone was the Boston-based praise for Bobrovsky, coming off a dominant .932 in a sweep of Tampa, that the pushback on it even from Bruins fans itself became overdone.
Perhaps it’s the perception around sweeping the most successful regular-season team of all time versus grinding out a seven-game series win against a lower seed, but Rask was nearly as electrifying — .928 — against a Toronto team with arguably as much star power up front as the Lightning. And perhaps it’s the fact the Bruins media could have never been accused of viewing Rask fairly, but the feeling was that the only thing standing between the Bruins and the Eastern Conference final was Bobrovsky doing the Bobrovsky thing and standing on his head.
To that end, yeah, Bobrovsky has been great through five games in this series — three of which he’s lost, through no real fault of his own — to the tune of a .925 save percentage, which is a great number. But here comes Rask with a .936. Nine thirty six.
Not just matching Bobrovsky, but beating him.
Make no mistake: This has been a very close series, as evidenced by the fact that three of the five games went to OT. Boston dominated Game 1 and won it. Columbus was slightly better in Game 2 and was properly rewarded. Game 3 was a huge game for Columbus but it only won by a goal. Game 4 was another close one, except this time it was everywhere but on the scoreboard. Game 5 was an incredible contest that Boston dominated until the wild back half of the third period.
On the balance, though, there has been very little to separate these teams. It’s 3-2 with the Bruins holding a plus-3 goal difference, but on expected goals it should be much closer than that; the Bruins are actually minus-0.02. That’s it. In terms of quality and quantity, these teams “should be” basically tied after about 329 minutes.
That they are not is down to Rask. He’s stopped shorthanded breakaways, a penalty shot, odd-man rushes and all the rest, including going .911 against high-danger SOG (five goals against on 56 high-danger shots). He is reasons Nos. 1-8 they didn’t lose Game 4.
And this is, again, a guy who got shivved by the local media every time he gave up three on 30. Despite the fact that he’s one of the best goaltenders of the past several years, the Boston media has been trying to gin up a “start Halak” controversy on the regular this season, and at the start of the playoffs, and when Rask didn’t even have bad games early in these playoffs against Toronto.
You always need your goalie in the playoffs and when your goalie has an established track record of being one of the world’s best, he’s going to get a lot of credit. Rask, of course, has that track record as well, but the people who see him play every day have never, ever treated him like he’s as good as he is.
Let’s put it all this way: In a showdown against maybe the best goaltender of the past seven seasons, Rask is the biggest reason the Bruins are flying to Columbus with a chance to close out the series in six. He hasn’t just matched Bobrovsky, he’s been noticeably, quantifiably better.
Maybe people will start giving Rask his due respect after this, regardless of the ultimate outcome of this series. But I’m not holding my breath.
31 Takes: Playoff Edition
Boston Bruins: In the last two games the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line has six goals and the depth has chipped in another two and, y’know what, that’s gonna be good enough to win you two tight games. They really needed these guys to step up and, because they’re the best line in hockey, they have. All three are north of 60 in xGF%. Can’t beat that, especially since Bergeron and Marchand kill penalties.
Carolina Hurricanes: Dougie Hamilton giving Brock Nelson a head pat in the handshake line was literally all the Islanders deserved in that series. “Good try, bud. Thanks for showing up.” I know it was a response to the head pat on McElhinney when the Islanders tied Game 3, but as that series went on, it was just all ‘Canes all the time and they earned the right to be a little condescending about jabbing back. They’re really looking like a team of destiny all of a sudden. When they get it going, every shift looks like a power play. Unreal.
Colorado Avalanche: As anyone with a brain has been saying for a good long time now, even if the Avs get goaltending (which wasn’t the case all year but has been lately) the problem is that they don’t have depth scoring to win games unless MacKinnon and Rantanen do the bulk of the work. The Avs have 12 goals over 300 minutes in this series and MacKinnon has been on the ice for seven of them in 118. They score a little over a goal an hour without him. Martin Jones has a .931 save percentage at 5-on-5 in this series. That’s really all you need to say I guess.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Something I think might be working in Boston’s favor in this series that didn’t work for Tampa is that all the Bruins’ games against Columbus this year were all after the trade deadline. They’re familiar with each other because they’ve played eight times in like seven weeks. No roster changes. The Lightning’s games against CBJ were in October, January, and mid-February. So much changed since then. Might matter. Also, maybe not.
Dallas Stars: Yeah I’m sorry but it’s absurd that Ben Bishop can potentially break his collarbone on a shot and be writhing around in obvious pain on the ice and the refs — empowered with the ability to whistle the play dead if a player is in distress — are like, “Play on.” St. Louis scores immediately, then again on the very next shot as Bishop barely even reacts to the Sammy Blais slapper, and the Stars basically lose the game right then and there. It’s just another reason this league and the culture around this sport absolutely sucks: It makes no effort whatsoever to protect players. I know I know, “Oh but they’d all dive if that were the case.” But that’s why it’s at the ref’s discretion and if Bishop weren’t writhing around on the ice he would have easily saved the goal that immediately followed. Give me a break with this crap.
New York Islanders: There’s probably going to be a ton of turnover for this club. They have tens of millions of dollars in cap space and some pending UFAs who will be looking to eat up a big chunk of that. That includes team MVP (by a mile) Robin Lehner, Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. And you gotta leave room for Mat Barzal’s deal next summer as well. This team has obvious needs, most importantly up front, so they should be able to address some of that with the extra space they have. The question is, do they buy their own BS about, like, Casey Cizikas and Leo Komarov being needle-movers and do the Typical Lou thing that got him forced out in Toronto? *Billy Ray Cyrus voice* Much to think about.
San Jose Sharks: Contrast the above Avs take with this one: The Sharks have an offense-driving borderline-Norris defenseman who doesn’t look good at all in this series and it just doesn’t matter. Grated he’s the one getting hard-matched against MacKinnon (about 62 of his 102 minutes at full strength in this series), but Burns is getting speedbagged in xGF even if he’s winning the possession battle. Put another way, the Avs’ top line is generating a lot of scoring chances and converting on plenty of them — which they can do to anyone, at will — but the Sharks are deep enough that they can get run over like this and have it not-matter. Must be nice.
St. Louis Blues: This series was always going seven games, gang. The Blues definitely had the better of play in half of them (maybe not all the ones they won, but it comes out in the wash, I guess). It’s weird that a series with two teams that got great goaltending for the bulk of the year isn’t shaking out that way — .912 for Dallas, .909 for St. Louis — but these have all been pretty fun. When you’ve got almost 32 combined expected goals and 32 actual goals, things are lookin’ good.
Gold Star Award
Teuvo Teravainen went off in Games 3 and 4 and you simply must respect that.
Minus of the Weekend
Torts guaranteed a win in Game 6 after Lehner guaranteed a win in Game 3 after Tomas Hertl guaranteed a win in Game 6 against Vegas. First of all this is too many damn guarantees. Second of all, I want guarantees to go exactly .500 in these playoffs.