BOSTON — When it comes to goaltending during the run to the Stanley Cup, Jordan Binnington is getting the bulk of the notoriety.
But Tuukka Rask could end up with all the hardware.
You can make a solid case that Rask has been the better goalie in five of the six games played in the Cup final, and his strong play might give the Bruins a key advantage when the series comes to a climax Wednesday night in Game 7 at TD Garden.
Rask made 28 saves in Game 6 — including 12 when St. Louis was on the power play — as Boston extended the series with a 5-1 win. The game turned for good early in the third period when Binnington couldn't handle Brandon Carlo's bouncing 60-footer from the right point, giving Boston a 2-0 lead that proved insurmountable.
Rask, 32, is easily Boston's No. 1 candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs if the Bruins win the Cup. But if the Blues win, it's possible he could be the fifth goalie in history to win it while playing for the losing team. That's a feat last pulled by Anaheim's J.S. Giguere in 2003 against New Jersey.
Rask was Tim Thomas' backup when the Bruins won Game 7 at Vancouver in 2011. He's in the thick of the action this time as the Bruins will host the first Game 7 of a Cup final in their 95-year history. They haven't won a Cup at home since Bobby Orr's iconic overtime goal beat the Blues in 1970.
"It's very exciting. A lot of us have been in the finals a couple of times, but we haven't had a chance to have a clinching game at home," Rask said Sunday. "So, obviously, the city will be behind us and very excited. … At the end of the day, it's just a hockey game. You try to go out there and play your game. Play your best and see what happens."
Rask has a 2.15 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in the finals, dramatically better than Binnington's figures of 3.07 and .901. Over the entire playoffs, Rask has been similarly superior (1.93/.938 to 2.52/.911).
"He's our best player. He has been all playoffs and all regular season," said Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy. "We know that when he plays like that, to the best of his ability, and when we do our jobs in front of him, we've got to help him out. He's going to be there. He's going to be in that zone. ... We just believe in him so much and we know the kind of person and player he is. He's our rock."
Tuukka Rask is on a mission to bring the #StanleyCup back to Boston.
— #StanleyCup Game 7 on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) June 10, 2019
Binnington made 38 saves in Game 5 to thwart the Bruins in a 2-1 St. Louis victory. It's the only game of the series where he's made the kind of difference for the Blues than he has in earlier rounds. If the Blues win Game 7, Binnington will become the first rookie goalie in NHL history to win 16 games in one playoff year.
“Every game is important,” Binnington, 25, said after Game 6. "It was a big game tonight, and you want to do it for the fans and the city here, but unfortunately it didn’t work out, and we’ve got to pick ourselves back up and regroup and prepare the same way.”
The Blues' power play is 1 for 18 in the series and Rask, of course, is the Bruins' top penalty killer. At one point in Game 6, the Blues had 19 shots on goal — and 12 of them had come on four power plays. Rask stopped every shot.
McAvoy was involved in the weirdest play during a second-period power play, knocking the puck out of midair in the crease after an Alex Pietrangelo backhand hit the post and Rask's back. Rask tried to pin it to his back but didn't know where it was.
“I didn’t know where it was, and I figured it might be somewhere behind me, so I just tried to corral it with my hand behind my back, and then it stuck in my pants, and then it fell somewhere,” Rask told reporters. “I think Chucky made a great play to keep it out of the net originally, and, it’s never a good thing for a goalie to kinda be facing the play with your back, but luckily it stayed out.”
Rask broke through as a playoff goaltender in 2010, beating the favored Sabres and Vezina winner Ryan Miller as a rookie in a six-game first-round series. His win Sunday made him the 19th goalie to record 50 career playoff wins.
"Good for Tuukka,” said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s allowed us an opportunity to play in a Game 7."
Comparing the stats for goalies Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington during the Stanley Cup final and the entire 2019 postseason:
Cup final W-L GA Saves GAA Save%
Rask 3-3 13 160 2.15 .925
Binnington 3-3 17 155 3.07 901
Playoffs W-L GA Saves GAA Save%
Rask 15-8 45 677 1.93 .938
Binnington 15-10 63 636 2.52 .911