Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Observations of the Cup Final and Tuukka Rask

It's been a whirlwind since those two goals went into the Bruins net a mere twelve seconds apart, bringing their Cup run to an end. I hadn't had the chance to comment until now and it seems like ancient history. Nonetheless I do have some observations about that final game, the series, and the play of Tuukka Rask that I think are worth setting down.

I presume most people, like me, thought that the Bruins had game 6 in the bag. That is, after all, the back and forth of how playoff series usually go. With reasonably solid play and the lead in the third, everything looked set for a game 7. However, I had an uneasy feeling. Although they had dominated much of the play, the Bruins seemed worn down and tired compared to the Hawks. I sensed that they were running out of gas and I was preparing myself to see them lose in game 7. Then those two quick goals came and it was all over.

In my opinion game 6 was not only lost in those 12 seconds. It was also lost in the second period on a Bruins power play. Up to that point the Bruins had completely dominated. They had the only goal in the game. Then at 2:24 of the second period the Hawk's Andrew Shaw took a 2-minute roughing penalty. Everyone had to be thinking the same thing -- go out and get another goal! But the Bruins came out like it was an opportunity for a vacation. They fumbled the puck in their own zone, and I have an image stuck in my head of Chara skating through the neutral zone with the puck like it was radioactive. I went ballistic, yelling at the TV as I had so often done this season when the Bruins lost their focus. I recall yelling, "Nobody want's the puck!" Sure enough, just as the power play ended the Hawks took advantage of the Bs Keystone Cops routine and tied it up. This sort of thing should seldom happen to a good team during the regular season. It should never happen during the playoffs. For them to fold up like this during game six of the Cup Final? Are you kidding me? Whether it was that lapse in the second period or the collapse in the third, in the end, the inconsistency that plagued the team throughout the season finally caught up with them.

Even though the Bruins did not play consistently enough to deserve to win the series, they still could have won it. It was very close and several of the games could have gone the other way. Some people aren't going to want to hear this, but there is no doubt in my mind that had Tim Thomas been in goal the Bruins would have won their second cup in three years. Rask played well overall -- just look at his stats! -- but he failed to steal the series. For whatever reason Rask got rattled. It started in game 4. The way to tell if Rask is on his game is simple. When playing at his best he looks like a statue, always in the right spot waiting for the puck in order to swallow it up or send it harmlessly to the corner. When in the zone his play appears effortless. But in game 4 we saw those cat-like reflexes of his on display and while he still made the first save, he started giving up rebounds. It was those rebounds that the Hawks pounced upon, first to take the lead in the third, and later to win the game in OT. In game 5 we saw more of the same, right from the start, and again, I believe it was the key difference in the outcome. 

Don't get me wrong here, I think Rask was the better goaltender in the series and I think he is one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. I am happy the Bruins appear on the verge of signing him long term. The Hawks earned their rebound goals by overwhelming the Bruins defense. But, at his best Tim Thomas would have found a way to win those games, because popular to say or not, Tim Thomas was more than just a very good goaltender. Tim Thomas was one of the all-time greats.

In the end I can take solace in this thought: at least the Canucks did not win the cup in 2011. I can handle losing to the Hawks. They are such a classy organization, and other than those sole-less eyes of Toews, there is very little to hate about them. But the thought of those whiners in Vancouver winning the cup... that's unbearable.

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