At this point, the guy who is comfortably leading the Conn Smythe race is Tuukka Rask, and it’s not particularly close.
He’s .942 in Boston’s run so far, having stopped more than 13.6 goals above expected in just 17 playoff games. The next closest guy this postseason is Ben Bishop, who checks in at about 7.2 above expected. Transcendent hockey on the balance, for sure.
And that was with a merely superlative first round in which Boston went seven games with Toronto and Rask conceded 16 goals and went .928. In six games against Columbus, he went .948. In the sweep of Carolina, he was .956. So not only has he been good, he’s gotten progressively better. So, too, have the Bruins, but it is through Rask that they so casually dumped the Bunch of Jerks into a long, cruel summer.
We’ve been hearing a lot in these past few days that this is going to be a goaltending duel: Rask vs. Jordan Binnington. After all, Rask was rather ordinary — some would argue below-average, and I couldn’t fight them on it — in the regular season, but it didn’t matter because of how good both his team and his backup were from the jump. Meanwhile, Binnington came out of nowhere and sparkled for a team that desperately needed it, due to a terrible first quarter of the season and a very bad presumptive starter, just to get back into the playoff race.
Their roles, however, reversed in the playoffs. Obviously Binnington looked great in closing out the Sharks, going .974 across Games 4 through 6. But before that? He was .854 in the first three games of that series, and ended it .912 on the balance. He’s only .914 for the entire postseason and actually has a negative goals-saved above expected (minus-1.4).
The huge gap between those GSAA numbers — exactly 15 — is interesting because of the similar workload the goaltenders have faced. The Bruins are doing a slightly better job of keeping opponents to the outside, both goalies are in the neighborhood of 2.5 expected-goals against per hour of hockey, and Rask’s had it a little tougher because he faced 10 more rush attempts in about 120 fewer minutes.
You do wonder how much the extra several days off does to a goalie who is as dialed-in as Rask has been for the last month, obviously, but the fact that Binnington also had almost a week off kind of takes some of the juice off the “rest vs. rust” fastball. It’s also worth noting that in terms of offensive efficiency, the Bruins generate more than three expected goals per hour this postseason, with the Blues about 10 percent back of that number. More recently, the gap actually got a little wider, with the Bruins obliterating the Hurricanes (nearly plus-1 expected goals an hour) and the Blues simply doing their part (a shade under plus-0.5). They were similarly inefficacious in the second round, both finishing below water in xG/60.
It’s also worth noting that while Binnington was positively molten in his first 20 appearances, he was only as good as Rask’s full-season numbers after that, and that standard of play has continued into the playoffs. The difference, then, was that Rask bailed out the Bruins when called upon, whereas Binnington was merely fine and that was all the Blues needed. Rask faced adversity, balled it up and threw it in the nearest trash can. Binnington faced it and struggled, only to have his team pull him out of the fire.
Neither had a particularly difficult job in the conference finals — being able to outduel Martin Jones and Petr Mrazek is like the bare minimum required to qualify as an actual NHL goalie — but now with the title on the line, one team has a lot of reason to be exceptionally confident and the other has a guy who’s been .913 since the beginning of March.
Things can change quick around here, so that’s important to keep in mind. But there’s a lot more reason to believe in the guy who’s been lights-out this spring and already has a .930-plus Cup Final on his resume (against an era-defining team) than the one who was in the AHL earlier this season, y’know?
31 Takes: Playoff Edition
Boston Bruins: One of the things I think is great about Bruce Cassidy is his willingness to just say whatever comes into his head. He’s like few coaches in the league that way. The latest example? He talked at length about considering a hypothetical situation in which he moves Joakim Nordstrom back to defense to see if he can juice the offense from there in a pinch. The Bruins probably do need more goals from the blue line this postseason (they have just eight, and Matt Grzelcyk is the only guy with more than one), so it’s interesting to see a guy who’s about to coach a Cup Final in his second year behind the bench just go, “Here’s what I’ve been thinking about!” I think that’s cool. Maybe that’s what happens when you have almost two weeks off.
St. Louis Blues: I really hate to hear about how any team is dealing with “demons” or that kind of thing, like Vladimir Tarasenko is walking around thinking about the time the 1976 Blues lost in the first round or whatever happened to them (I shan’t be looking it up). Like, I know the community and the fans have a lot invested in this but don’t put that stuff on the current players, dude. Your beef is with Brett Hull and, I dunno, who’s another Blues guy? Bernie Federko? Probably him. I bet Sammy Blais couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. And that’s fine. It’s not his business to know who Barret Jackman is. Just let the guys play.
Gold Star Award
Oh hey, there’s hockey tonight. Novel concept.
Minus of the Weekend
That also means there wasn’t hockey Friday, Saturday, or yesterday. Just thoughtless to do that on a holiday weekend. The NHL is really lucky everyone on the Bucks forgot how to score the basketball in the fourth quarter because Game 1 would have been against Game 7 of an Eastern Conference final that literally everyone in Canada who couldn’t pick Fred VanVleet out of a lineup a month ago would be watching.
Play of the Weekend
We could probably put that late Kwahi 3 that buried the Bucks in here or something. Maybe the dunk over Giannis. No hockey so whatever.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Heckler81” has to be a Panthers fan:
#2 pick - Hughes/Kakko
Leave it in as evidence. Bazooka Joe’s got deep pockets.
Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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