Game 7s are where legends truly are born in every sport.
It’s also where past failures and transgressions go to get eradicated.
Wednesday night at TD Garden Tuukka Rask and his Boston teammates are on the cusp of hockey immortality. And Tuukka has a chance to forever alter what people immediately think of when they hear his name.
While the entire Bruins team will obviously have a ring and Stanley Cup engraving on the line, Tuukka – who’s also reaching first-name-only level on the Boston sports landscape -- will be playing for something even more lasting than that etching.
Make no mistake, Tuukka is on the doorstep of legendary sports status in the most legendary championship era of arguably the most legendary sports city in America.
Oh, that’s all?
In the scoreboard-driven world of pro sports, Rask’s reputation hinges on the Game 7 result. Almost regardless of how he plays, a Bruins win and he’s a made man. A Blues victory? Well, then he falls by the wayside of the many who played well, maybe even great but couldn’t summit the championship mountain.
Ask Randy Moss, Wes Welker and the 2007 Patriots what coming up short feels like.
Rask has always been a good goalie. Maybe a very good goalie. But he’s taken his play and his reputation to a new level this spring with all the puck-loving hockey world watching.
But he’s also always had his very vocal detractors pointing to big-game troubles and pressure-spot disappearances as arguments against his greatness. His paycheck, his durability and his ability to step up have often been picked apart.
But with all due respect to the anti-Rask crowd – and it’s arguable how much respect those detractors deserve – Tuukka can silence the critics for good Wednesday night.
To say Rask has been standing on his head this postseason would be hockey-talk trite.
To say he’s playing so well that he’s stopping shots with his glove hand behind his back would be, well, highlight-verified reality. (Sure, he had help on that one. But leave me alone. Like Tuukka, I’m rolling here!)
On the cusp of his 16th and Cup-clinching win, Rask has a 1.93 goals against average this spring. His save percentage is .938. For what it’s worth those numbers are actually in line or even a little worse than his postseason efforts in a pair of playoff runs from 2012-14.
But neither of those marches ended with a Cup and ring.
For comparison, Tim Thomas’ legend-molding magnificence through the 2011 Stanley Cup included a .940 save percentage and 1.98 GAA.
But lore, lore would have you believing Thomas never allowed a goal on his track to legendary status.
Maybe an even better example of what winning it all can do came last fall when David Price went from having never enjoyed even a single victory as a starter in the postseason to a streak through a World Series and ring that left the lefty telling his many critics, “I hold all the cards.”
He’s right. With three wins last fall, including a pair in the World Series in which he had a 1.98 ERA over 13.2 innings, Price rewrote his narrative. Heck, he rewrote his decades-off obituary.
And it’s not like Rask is looking to pull off some David Tyree-like big-game shenanigans to carve out his legend. (Sorry Patriots fans, two references to Super Bowl XLII is probably two too many.)
Nope, Rask has borderline Hall of Fame credentials already. With the Game 6 win in St. Louis on Sunday night he became just the third active goalie and only the 19th ever to secure 50 postseason wins. He’s a former first-round pick who went on to become, whether his haters admit it or not, a franchise goalie.
But he can take the last, final step in writing or maybe rewriting his legend on Wednesday night in Boston. There’s plenty of chatter that the man behind the Rask Mask is in line to secure the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. No question it would be a well-deserved honor, one he would share in Boston history with only Thomas and Bobby Orr (2).
Rask is one performance away from a Cup. A ring. A legend. An immortality.
He’s on the verge of a status that is infinitely and almost inexplicably difficult to achieve. One that’s even harder to have taken away.
Two Us. Two Ks. And one more game to a an opportunity to secure a stature that few athletes reach in any city on Earth, never mind the rich sports history of Boston.
It’s Tuukka’s time.