BOSTON -- He finished his night in Finnish. The English-speaking part of his time on the podium, formal and amplified, was done for Tuukka Rask. The English-speaking reporters had disappeared to write their stories in a late-night hurry. The interview in Finnish began.
Three men and a woman stepped out of their press conference chairs, came to the front of the room and stood around him in a little semi-circle. They could have been standing on a street corner in Helsinki. His words were recorded, yes, but the questions and answers were conversational. Pleasant. There were some smiles. There was a touch of Finnish-speaking laughter, which sounds very much like English-speaking laughter.
"Is he funny in Finnish?" an American asked the reporters after the Boston Bruins goaltender departed last night with his third shutout of the Stanley Cup playoffs, this one a 2-0 whitewash of the Chicago Blackhawks to give the home team a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven finals at the TD Garden.
"Yes," one of the reporters replied, but with an uncertain quality to his voice. "But Finnish humor is…understated. He is funny, yes, but he is very businesslike. He is the same as he is in English, really. He is serious about what he is doing."
26 years old, a restricted free agent at the end of these playoffs, Mr. Rask ("The first name if it is misspelled with only one 'u,' as it often is in America, means 'hair' in Finnish, the reporter said.) could be heading for a big financial payoff. The businesslike, serious approach that he matches well with the businesslike, serious approach of his teammates. They are working it to perfection.
Playing in the defensive system of Bruins coach Claude Julien, Rask has been an exclamation point at the end of a series of whacking, poke-checking, diving bodies strung out in rows along the ice surface. The Blackhawks, especially last night, have been stymied by the layers. Tuukka, two u's, the pride of Savonlinna, Finland (home since 2000 of the Finnish mobile phone tossing championships) has been that final layer. Perfect.
"Tonight was great," he said in English. "If you take away the first period of the last game … I thought the last two periods of that game were really good. Today we continued to do that.
"I mean, they had shots, but most of them came from the outside. We eliminated a lot of those rebound opportunities. I think that's something that every team likes to do and we succeeded today."
His shutout, 28 saves, seemed almost matter of fact. His heroics from Game 2 in Chicago on Saturday came in that untidy first period when the Bruins were outshot 19-4, and he made spectacular save after spectacular save to keep them in a game that they eventually won, 2-1 in overtime to even the series. That was his one-man-band special, his recital. This was a shutout put together by the entire orchestra.
"This is a low-chance game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, talking about his team's frustrations. "It's a low-chance series … It's hard to get A-plus chances. You have to manufacture the second chances, kind of ugly goals, tip screens, deflections. If they (the Bruins) give up the rush, they're not going to give up much, even though we had a couple of looks in the third. The frequency of having high-quality chances at both ends has not been there."
The Bruins received all the offense they needed from a couple of Daniel Paille rushes toward the Blackhawks net in the second period. The first rush finished with a goal 2:13 into the session that gave the Bruins a 1-0, controlling edge in the game. The second rush, when he was tripped, led to a five-on-three situation which led to a power play goal by Patrice Bergeron that delivered total control.
"It's tough," Quenneville said. "They go from normal defense, which they've been playing very well, to a prevent defense."
The layers did their jobs. Bruins players blocked 17 shots that never reached Rask. (The Blackhawks blocked seven in front of goaltender Corey Crawford.) Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, on the ice with partner Zdeno Chara for over 25 minutes in the 60-minute game, blocked six shots by himself. He wound up wearing the honorary flak jacket, voted by his teammates as star of the game.
That was how important the layers were.
"It's huge help," Rask said, talking about the blocked shots. "We've gotten better at it, a lot better, as the season has gone on. These guys aren't trying to play goalie, they're just trying to be in the lane. All of the guys are taking care of their ice, keeping their head up, looking to guys behind them or ahead of them.
"Dennis, for example today, blocked a bunch of shots. Our D has done a tremendous job in the playoffs of doing that. I like that. As long as they block it and not let (the puck) go through, we'll be all set."
And so, the Blackhawks are left with the Rubik's Cube of strategy to twist and turn and try to align before the fourth game on Wednesday night, also at the Garden. Quenneville thinks scoring a first goal in that game would loosen up the layers, make the Bruins extend more on offense. This is sound hockey thinking, except the team that scored the first goal in the first two games of the series was the eventual loser in each.
The Bruins simply would like to keep doing what they have been doing since that bad first period on Saturday. Defense and more defense. They now, for example, have killed off 26 straight penalties. Before that they had killed off 15 straight.
"What's been working so well for you in the penalty killing?" Seidenberg was asked.
"Well, I think we stay compact within our zone," the defenseman said. "Once the puck is bobbled, if you see a chance to pressure them, we do that. For the most part, we've done a good job keeping them to the outside.
"Then there's Tuukka. He always seems to make that save. We try to clean up for him to get the rebound or for us to clean it up."
Tuukka is the Finnish finish. Working just fine.