When Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or David Pastrnak scores, that’s expected. When the Bruins’ secondary scoring continues to find the back of the net, that’s an added bonus. When Tuukka Rask plays at an inhuman level on top of that? That’s unfair. Behind Rask’s 35-save effort, Boston claimed a 2–1 victory against the Hurricanes on Tuesday night and secured a 3–0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
Carolina’s insistent forecheck resurfaced in the first period, firing shots from the point, through traffic, and in close, but Rask had preinstalled and bolted in the storm shutters. Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk battered Boston with eight shots from the blue line to no effect. Justin Williams added another four. Teuvo Teravainen hamfisted a one-timer wide past an open net 18 seconds in and left Carolina’s best chance off the scoresheet. The Hurricanes outshot the Bruins 20–6 after 20 minutes.
The cause for a reversal in fortune: Boston’s fourth line. Just 1:21 into the second, Joakim Nordstrom wired a pass under Brett Pesce’s stick, through the crease and onto the blade of Chris Wagner, who directed the puck into the net for his second goal of the postseason. Five minutes later, Marchand turned Faulk around with a swift forehand-to-backhand deke into the slot and shoveled a backhander past Curtis McElhinney to open a 2–0 lead.
After playing nearly perfect in net for 33-plus minutes, Rask’s superhuman abilities lapsed, for a moment. Canes defenseman Calvin de Haan fit a slap shot through a puck-sized five hole and cut the deficit in half. Carolina avoided going down 3–1 after a goaltender interference call was upheld in the third period, but it wouldn’t matter: Boston held on, weathered increased pressure from the Hurricanes and claimed a road win in Raleigh.
There’s one problem for anyone with Stanley Cup aspirations other than Boston: Rask. Teams have tried and failed to overcome his play in net. The Maple Leafs managed 11 goals through the opening round’s first four games and then had their postseason dreams shattered when Rask saved 32 of 33 shots in a Game 7 victory. In the next round, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella claimed his team “dented” Rask … and then Rask pitched a 39-save shutout to eliminate Columbus in six games.
The Hurricanes have no answers. Any other human goaltender would have buckled against Carolina’s first-period barrage. Rask, though, is playing to all the human limits of a goaltender and looks like he is enhanced with an almost artificial lock onto the puck. While the Bruins’ secondary scoring is already making this team seem too good, the Finnish netminder spawns despair in everyone rooting for a team other than Boston.
Rask has played that well and is deservedly in the Conn Smythe conversation. Now, the Bruins tightened their vise-grip on the Eastern Conference Final and will return to PNC Arena on Thursday as seemingly insurmountable Goliaths. The forecast for the Hurricanes is bleak: Through three games, Boston has outscored Carolina 13–5 and has obliterated any hope for a fair contest with a dominant power play. There’s not another goalie to turn to—2006 Cam Ward isn’t walking through that door—and no team in NHL history has come back from a 3–0 deficit in the conference finals.
The Hurricanes get it: They’re counted-out underdogs with an expected time of death set for Thursday night. These bunch of jerks have scraped out of the rubble before, but they’ll face their toughest challenge when they attempt to ward off elimination for the third time this postseason.