Sometimes, it just isn’t your series. Sometimes, you just run into a buzzsaw—or perhaps a brick wall. The Carolina Hurricanes, now down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final, may not particularly care which of those two cases is more applicable here, but it’s really a Venn diagram, and in the center is Tuukka Rask.
The Canes played two of their worst games of the season to open this series. Two total dog turds. Maybe it was nerves, or imposed nerves caused by Boston’s domineering play and utter confidence, or just straight bad luck, or a more talented team imposing its will on a lesser for just about each and every one of 120 minutes, or all of these. Whatever it was, the Hurricanes desperately needed to play desperately in Game 3. They did, at first.
Carolina opened with maybe its single best period of hockey all year. They swarmed like hornets and rained pucks on goal like hellfire. They outskated, outmuscled, and outsmarted their Bruins counterparts throughout. They earned four power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 46 seconds. They had 12 shots on their power plays alone, seemingly all good, high-quality shots. They had 33 shot attempts in the first, and 20 shots on net.
They had, depending on whose metric you prefer, either 2.49 or 2.75 expected goals in the first period.
They got zero actual goals.
“That’s more of the way we wanted to play,” Justin Williams said. “Obviously it just didn’t go in for us. It stinks. But it happens sometimes.” “It happens” is pointedly passive phrasing for what, exactly, did happen: Tuukka Rask stopped everything.
Of the insane four-shot sequence at the start of the above video, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy half-joked, “I had my eyes closed for three of them.”
The Canes finally got to Rask in the second, but by that point the Bruins had scored twice, and wouldn’t lose that lead. Rask had 35 saves on the night, and the 2-1 win gives Boston a 3-0 series lead that feels about as insurmountable as these things get, even in the sport where 0-3 comebacks are slightly less impossible.
Rask has been dominant in this series, and easily the league’s best goalie in the playoffs. Through 16 games—11 wins, and six wins in a row—he’s sporting a .939 save percentage and is allowing under two goals per game. It’s his best spring since leading the Bruins to the Cup six years ago, and Rask says all his postseason miles are paying off. “That’s the experience. Once you’ve played in the playoffs for many, many years you see all the scenarios that can happen out there.”
So the Canes are still stymied by a problem they’re rapidly running out of time to solve. And they don’t appear any closer now than they were last week. Justin Faulk was asked what makes Rask so tough to score on. “If I knew,” he said, “I’d have a couple more goals on him.”