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Why has Tuukka Rask struggled so much with the Canadiens?

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

Tuukka Rask has always had a tough time with the Habs. (Getty Images)
Tuukka Rask has always had a tough time with the Habs. (Getty Images)

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There is a very compelling argument to be made that Tuukka Rask has elevated himself to being the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. He's probably going to win the Vezina Trophy this season after finally being named a finalist.

Aside from one season, he has been very consistenly good in terms of his save percentage. Four of the five seasons in his career with at least 20 games played have yielded a save percentage between .929 and .931. Those are excellent numbers and show a remarkable consistency.

Rask is equally good in his playoff career, maintaining that consistency. In 43 career playoff games he has a save percentage of .930. He was phenomenal last postseason, leading the league with a .940 mark and taking the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final, sometimes keeping them in games almost single-handedly.

It's tough to deny his place at the table of the game's greats in the league today.

But if there is one flaw in Rask's game, it's a pretty bad one to have right now; the inability to play well against the Montreal Canadiens.

It dates all the way back to 2007 when Rask played his first game against the Habs. On that day he gave up four goals and the Bruins lost, starting a trend in his career. In 20 career games against the Habs, playoffs and regular season, Rask sees his save percentage dip all the way to .904. That helps to explain why he is only 4-12-3 against the Habs.

Indeed, this is the same Tuukka Rask that we're talking about here, a guy who shuts down other opponents on a regular basis but just can't do the same against the Canadiens. Considering they are Boston's big rival and they are going to likely only meet more often with the new playoff format, that's not very good news. Particularly not at this moment with the Canadiens up 2-1 in the series.

The big question is why Rask struggles so much with the Canadiens. It's not as though they are a big team that gives him a lot of trouble around the crease. In this series there have been some big defensive breakdowns which have obviously not helped Rask look good in the numbers department, a big culprit. Certainly it's not all on him but at the same time we've come to expect Rask to make those great saves and instead he was left watching goals go by, almost haplessly in the case of P.K. Subban's breakaway in Game 3.

It could be just as simple of an explanation as the Habs have his number. That doesn't mean that they've cracked the Rask code, as the Bruins said they had done on Price prior to Game 3, just that, for whatever reason, the Habs bring out the worst in him.

Carey Price, on the other hand, has a career record of 27-15-7 against the Bruins. It's incredibly rare with Rask in the nets that the Bruins are on the downside of the goalie matchup but considering what each does against the other, that might be the case here.

If the Bruins are going to even this series up and get their traction and home-ice advantage back, clearly the whole team will have to be better but one big step would be flipping the goaltending battle back in their favor.

 
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