BOSTON – In Game 3, the Pittsburgh Penguins rediscovered their game. What they did not discover was the key to the lock on the Bruins’ net. Boston Netminder Tuukka Rask has been brilliant, cool, calm, and collected in backstopping the Bruins to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Pens head coach Dan Bylsma has been impressed with Rask’s performance to date.
“His performance in the series has been outstanding. He’s come up big for them. We clearly haven’t been able to crack him. We’ve had good opportunities,” Bylsma said. “Go back to Game 1 and the opportunities that we did have, and again last night he was 50-plus save performance. He was outstanding in the game, and we haven’t been able to solve him at all, and I think largely last night stands as the difference in that game, and certainly the performance he’s putting up has been that.”
Rask has yielded only two goals in three games. His ability to position himself in the crease has afforded him the opportunity to see pucks as beach balls at this point. He has been unflustered throughout the playoffs but especially in this series his demeanor has been settled and even.
Boston head coach Claude Julien described Rask as being ‘focused’.
“Well, he’s just been very focused and very confident and seems to be building all the time. It’s nice to see that yesterday. Like I said, first period wasn’t a bad period. It was pretty even. But the second and third is where he really came up big for us and continues to do that, and that’s how we continue to win games,” Julien said of his netminder.
But it has not been just the goalie Boston on whom has relied. The defensive corps out have been sold on the game plan.
That buy-in has been up and down the bench from the rookies to the elder-statesmen, Jaromir Jagr.
“I think so. You don’t have to look any further than Jags. He’s played a certain way his whole career, and now he sees a team that plays a certain way and he’s bought into it and gets rewarded the last couple of games with some pretty important shifts,” Julien. “But our guys believe in what we’re trying to do here as a group. We’ve won that way, and it doesn’t matter who comes in, eventually those guys realize how strong a belief we have in that dressing room and they just jump in.
“It’s a credit to the players for believing in what we do and what we preach, and going out there and executing it.”
Jagr became something of a talking point on the day off. The game-winning goal developed off an uncalled hook on Evgeni Malkin by Jagr along the far boards.
The Penguins have not been making any noise about the play. In fact, Bylsma certainly understands that late in an OT game it will be rare for the hook call to be made.
“Just evaluating — just looking at the play, there’s no question he’s battling along the boards right in front of our bench with Jagr there’s a hook, but I’m not sure at that point in the game I thought for one second with how the game was being called that I expected a call at all on the play,” Bylsma said of the final play.
The Pens offense has generated two goals in the three games and Bylsma knows he needs to contend with his own team’s bruised confidence and the defense of the Bruins.
“Well, you’ve asked about if they’ve produced enough. We don’t have enough goals in any of the games to win them yet, so we haven’t produced enough offense as a team, Bylsma said. “We haven’t gotten that extra goal to win last night’s game, which was there. In terms of scoring chances, in terms of generating, the number of opportunities, the number of shots, the number of good scoring chances at the net we’ve had, we’ve had a number of those, not just in last night’s game, too, to win hockey games, to get goals, and we’ve gotten them from all our lines, from our top two lines have had those opportunities, our power play has had those looks, but we haven’t scored those goals. We haven’t gone post and in.”
But his focus also needs to be on overcoming the Boston defensive scheme that has frustrated the Pens. And when the defense is overcome, Rask steps in to save the play.
“In terms of the Bruins, they’re a very strong defensive team. They do it with team defense; they do it with good skill players defensively. They’ve been that from Bergeron to his line to Chara and the defensive pairing, Seidenberg and Boychuk and their defensemen back there, and Tuukka Rask has also been a big part of that, as well,” Bylsma said.
“You know, we did a lot of things we wanted to do. We didn’t get a goal in last night’s game to get the game-winning goal. We didn’t get that second goal. You know, that’s a picture we need to solve, and that’s what we’re going to do for Game 4,” the pens head coach added.
Whatever the answer, the Penguins can no longer afford to make any mistakes starting with this evening’s match in Boston.