After a 2-0 win—a merciful regulation win—Boston finds itself halfway to a Stanley Cup, so it's not too early to start thinking Conn Smythe. That talk begins and ends with the man in net, but that's only because MVP can't be a team award.
Backed by second period goals from Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron (off a laser-guided pass from Jaromir Jagr), Tuukka Rask stopped all 28 shots he faced. It was just the second time Chicago's been shut out all year, but thanks to all the overtime in the finals, Rask is putting up some incredible numbers. The Blackhawks haven't scored in more than 122 minutes. They've scored just five times in 246 minutes. You want to go back further? Rask allowed just two goals in Boston's sweep of Pittsburgh. Ten goals in five games against the Rangers. It's frightening, but he's getting better as the playoffs go along. For a guy who's never backstopped a full NHL season, it's a sign that the 26-year-old might be the real deal.
“He’s just been focused since Day 1 of the playoffs,” B’s coach Claude Julien said. “You watch him on the off days: quiet, focused, calm. Right now all his energy is put toward his game, how he needs to keep his energy and rest and relax.
“So when the game starts, he’s a focused individual. I’ve never seen a guy so calm and, obviously, so confident with the way he’s played. This is probably the quietest I’ve seen him — but in a good way.”
He's why Boston was so willing to let Tim Thomas spend the year on his Sovereign Citizen Vision Quest or whatever. This is a remarkable similar team to the one that won the Cup in front of Thomas two years ago—the defensemen stay home, the forwards get back, and the goalie's mostly there to clean up any mistakes. So far this series, there haven't been many—Rask was never seriously challenged last night. No wonder the media voted Patrice Bergeron, robbed for the Selke, the game's first star, despite Rask's shutout. The Bruins themselves? They picked defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.
If Boston's defense has been a full-team effort, Chicago's offense is missing its centerpiece. Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks' leading scorer in these playoffs, was a surprise scratch after warmups. Or maybe not such a surprise: Jonathan Toews said they knew all day that Hossa might not go. Joel Quenneville would call it only an upper-body injury, and say that Hossa's day-to-day. Chicago's power play has gone 0-9 this series and 7-60 in the playoffs, and appears even grimmer if Hossa's out.
It may not matter. Rask and the Bruins flat-out gelded the Penguins, the regular season's top scoring team. The Blackhawks were second, and they've looked as punchless as—well, as the Canucks in the 2011 finals. We've seen this before. New goalie, same Boston dominance.