David Krejci's having himself quite the series, huh?
His overtime winner on Wednesday was his third goal of the night, fifth of the series and continued the theme of Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic driving the Bruins offensively. Krejci's first and second goals of the evening knotted the game, 2-2, then gave them a shortlived 3-2 lead before Clarke MacArthur leveled an equalizer of his own 44 seconds later.
Like Sarah Connors wrote, Krejci's success in the series isn't all-too shocking. He's a good player, and his five goals and five assists for 10 points put him atop the league in playoff scoring. Beyond Krejci, Lucic's six assists in the series' first four games tie him with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla for the playoff lead. Horton's right there with three goals and three assists.
Despite these numbers, Tuukka Rask's play in goal has been the difference for the Bruins.
Scoring more than three goals a night is, more or less, the key for Boston. This season, the Bruins scored at least three goals 23 times. They won 17 of those games and took at least a point four times, losing in regulation just twice. Reaching this benchmark is never easy, and it'll become more difficult as the playoffs continue. As the Bruins drive for more offense, Rask's proven he'll keep them in games even as he's seen an average of 36.8 shots through four games. The shot totals are higher than Claude Julien would like, whether because the Leafs are pushing for a late goal, or the Bruins are just playing poorly for extended stretches of games.
Wednesday night, it was a case of both but mostly the latter.
Entering the third period, the score stood at 3-3, and Toronto was plainly better than Boston for those 20 minutes. The Bruins managed some chances primarily because their transition game has been deadly in this series, and, well, they're good, so they're going to get some looks. Rask stopped 14 shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation, including the four quality scoring chances the Leafs' managed. (Scoring chance data from Cam Charron of The Leafs Nation.)
Monday night, the Bruins defeated the Leafs, 5-2. Leading, 4-1, to start the period, the Bruins' penalty kill, which has been woeful for most of the last six weeks, allowed some no-name called Phil Kessel to casually stand in front of the net and slam in a rebound. For the remainder of the period, the Leafs, again, controlled a majority of the play, with Rask keeping the Bruins up by a pair before Krejci's empty-net goal iced the win. The Leafs outchanced the Bruins, 5-0, in the period.
The trend is alarming to an extent. Even without blowing any third-period leads in these playoffs, the Bruins' performances in these latter stages have been plainly bad. Rask's dominance has the Bruins up, 3-1, which is saying a lot given the run Krejci and his boys are on at the moment.
Toronto deserves a lot of credit for the pushes they're making late in games, even if they aren't getting wins. Like Thomas Drance of The Sporting News and Canucks Army pointed out, the Leafs outplayed the Bruins for pretty much the entire second half of Game 4, especially after MacArthur knotted the game, 3-3. From that point, Toronto managed 10 quality chances to the Bruins' four. Not much changed in overtime, with Toronto's chances standing at six to the Bruins' three, which includes Krejci's game-winner.
Overcoming all of this requires a few things, most notably a world-beating goaltender that thrives during the most unstable portions of hockey games. Save for Game 2, when the Bruins deserved to lose worse than they did, Rask has allowed just the one third-period goal. He is tied with Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings for the best even-strength save percentage in the playoffs at .953. Factoring in the four power-play goals the Leafs have in the series, Rask's save percentage drops to a tidy .932.
In the third period and overtime of the three wins, when this Bruins' team loses games more often than it wins them, Rask allowed just one goal on 49 shots -- a .980 save percentage.
Too much is often made of pressure and emotion and toughness, especially during this two-month period of playoff games. Rask, however, has displayed the calmest of demeanors under intense pressure from a Toronto team that looks infinitely better than it has in the last few seasons even in the face of a Bruins team that is just better.
Friday night, the Bruins will win Game 5 and advance to the second round of the playoffs if they get at least three pucks by James Reimer, who's having a nice little series for himself as well. Declarations like that may seem foolhardy, cocky, arrogant or any other adjective typically reserved for Montreal's P.K. Subban. But it comes down to Tuukka Rask, the goaltender that wasn't good enough to earn a Vezina nod.
The Leafs have been at their best for long stretches of this series. And, almost every time, Rask's been just a little bit better.