Without Rask, there is no comeback

BOSTON -- Around a locker room where so many people struggled to find the words for the most unpredictable events that had just unfolded, perhaps Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask put it best.

Asked about his mentality in the overtime period of the Bruins' wild 5-4 Game 7 comeback win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rask dropped a hammer that was fitting for its bluntness.

"Either you're a hero or an a------," he shrugged.

You can find plenty of faults in the Bruins in this series.

You can fault their lack of urgency, both in the inability to close out the Leafs in five games, and in the helter-skelter Game 7 effort, which produced just 10 shots on goal in the first 30 minutes before rattling off two goals in 31 seconds in the final 1:22 to send the game to overtime.

You can fault what coach Claude Julien has dubbed the "Jekyll-and-Hyde" personality of the team.

And you can lay blame on Rask at times if you must, though he was left helpless in several of the Leafs' goals -- including both third-period goals.

But when the Bruins needed him most, Rask once again stood firm as he has through most of this series, making a crucial stop of Matt Frattin with 3:32 to go to prevent a fifth goal after Nathan Horton had closed the lead to 4-2.

"When you're down 4-1 with eight minutes left and get yourself back in the game to make it 4-2 -- we shouldn't forget that Tuukka made a big save on a breakaway that would have made it 5-2," Julien said. "He kept us in there."

During the lockout-shortened regular season, Rask put to rest many questions about his elite ability following Tim Thomas' unceremonious departure, finishing top 10 in save percentage (3rd, .929) and goals against average (6th, 2.00), and tying for first for shutouts (5). But many of the demons from his last go-around in full-time duty during the playoffs lingered.

Back in the 2009-10 season, Rask overtook Thomas as the No. 1 goaltender and was one of the hottest names in town. But after a brilliant first-round series against Buffalo in which he outdueled Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller, the youngster ran out of gas. After going up 3-0 to Philadelphia in their second-round series, the Bruins lost four straight games, including an abhorrent Game 7 in which the Bruins surrendered a 3-0 first-period lead thanks to some fairly soft goals allowed.

For now, Rask has put those demons to rest, registering a .923 save percentage and 2.49 GAA in this first-round series, near the top among playoff goaltenders thus far.

The familiar cries of "Tuukka" rang loud and repeatedly throughout TD Garden Monday night as he made stop after stop, but the Bruins continuously failed to capitalize on momentum after a slick but steady save from Rask.

Things got off to a favorable start in net. There was Mikhail Grabovsky's rebound attempt in the opening minutes that slid inches wide of the left post, Rask diving backward but unable to get his paddle on it. There was his impressive kick save of Joffrey Lupul several minutes later, with Rask getting his right pad out in time as the crafty right winger went forehand to backhand.

But things quickly unraveled, as Rask continued to make save after save, pad stuff after spread eagle glove grab, while the Bruins stalled in first gear. First, Cody Franson redeemed his bad giveaway to Matt Bartkowski minutes earlier with an easy rebound at the open post, following a scrum in front of the net. Franson struck again in the second, getting a deflection in front. That was followed by two more helpless goals, an open-net rebound from Phil Kessel followed by a Nazem Kadri wrister in a 2-on-1.

Rask admitted to his frustration in the early going, but kept his memory short, stood tall, then raced to the bench as the Bruins embarked on their unthinkable comeback.

Regarding the awareness that a loss could have brought about changes in personnel going forward, Rask said he's "always felt the same way" when asked about how the win might change the future.

"If we play as good as we can, as we've shown in the past, we're good enough to [beat] anybody," he said. "But then again, if we're not playing at our level, if not everybody's pulling the load, it's kind of frustrating for everybody and probably for management to watch.

"I think at times this series was frustrating to watch because we couldn't create anything and we just got scored on. But, you know, coming back like this I'm sure builds confidence and trust for us."