Columbus, Ohio — Tuukka Rask was impenetrable when it counted in Game 6, and the Boston Bruins are on their way to the Eastern Conference final.
Rask made 39 saves and recorded his sixth career playoff shutout as Boston beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 Monday night to clinch their second-round series 4-2.
Rask was supported by great defensive play in front of the net by the Bruins, who were outshot 39-29 in a tight physical game that has been the norm in this series.
Boston advances to face the Carolina Hurricanes, who swept the New York Islanders in four games. The Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since the 2012-13 season, when they lost in the Stanley Cup finals.
“(Rask) was definitely our most consistent player throughout the whole series,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We had guys give us good performances from game to game. He was there every night.”
Boston’s top-liners were kept off the scoresheet again, but it didn’t matter.
David Krejci scored in the first period , and Marcus Johansson and David Backes had third-period goals for the Bruins, who gave up four power plays to the Blue Jackets but Rask stonewalled Columbus on a number of high-danger chances.
Columbus hit posts at least four times.
“We peppered him,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “It wasn’t through lack of trying or competing on anyone’s part. I thought everyone brought it, and it’s just disappointing.”
Rask said he put up with increased pushing and shoving in the crease and kept Columbus from taking him out of his game.
“As the series went on, they kind of felt like they needed to do that,” Rask said. “Trying to get in my head a little bit. It’s funny when that happens because you know you got the better of them at that point.”
Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had an outstanding postseason but allowed the two quick goals in the third period that sealed it for Boston. He finished with 26 saves.
The Bruins appeared to have a goal in the first period when Sean Kuraly put one in after an extended close-in attack on a power play, but it was overturned after a replay showed that Joakim Nordstrom had pushed Bobrovsky out of the crease.
After Jake DeBrusk hit a goal post, Krekci got the rebound off the boards and scored the first goal of the game with a slap shot from the top of the right circle with 7:47 left in the second.
“I was comfortable even with the one-goal lead just the way (Rask) was going,” Cassidy said. “You’re not sitting there nursing it by any means, but I wasn’t worried about Tuukka. … He’s been in a real good place, consistent, just solid and composed.”
Near the end of the second, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy nearly took off Josh Anderson’s head with a hit, but the officials leveled only a two-minute minor penalty for an illegal check. The Blue Jackets had 1:41 of the power play remaining to start the third period but again couldn’t capitalize.
Boston got its second goal 8:58 into the third when Bobrovsky allowed a shot by Johansson to bounce behind him after the initial stop. Backes got the third on a rush about 2 ½ minutes later .
Columbus faces a daunting offseason. Bobrovsky and star forward Artemi Panarin are unrestricted free agents and have refused, so far, to re-sign with the Blue Jackets. Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, picked up in trades at the deadline, also will be unrestricted free agents.
“We just have to remember how tough it is in the playoffs,” Columbus forward Cam Atkinson said. “Next year, who knows what’s going to happen, who’s going to be in this locker room, so this one stings.”
More NHL playoffs
(At) Colorado 4, San Jose 3, OT: Captain Gabriel Landeskog scored 2:32 into overtime after Colorado squandered a late lead in regulation and the Avalanche beat the Sharks to force a decisive Game 7 in their Western Conference semifinal series.
Landeskog dumped the puck into the zone, turned in a big hit along the boards, got up in time to take a pass from rookie Cale Makar and knock in the goal past Martin Jones to help the Avalanche escape elimination. J.T. Compher had two goals and an assist, while Tyson Jost added another.
Game 7 is Wednesday in San Jose. The winner will play either Dallas or St. Louis in the conference final.
The Stars and Blues are tied heading into Game 7 in St. Louis on Tuesday. The Sharks are 7-4 all-time in Game 7s, including a win over Vegas in the first round, while the Avalanche have a 4-6 mark since relocating to the Mile High City.
Philipp Grubauer made 23 saves, including a pad save on Tomas Hertl early in OT.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored twice, including the tying goal off the skate of an Avalanche defenseman with 2:28 remaining, and Brent Burns added another for the Sharks, who fell to 22-19 when opponents are facing elimination.
This has been a back-and-forth series. San Jose captured Game 1 and the two have alternated wins the rest of the way. The combined score in the series is 17-16 in favor of the Sharks.
Colorado has been playing desperate hockey since late in the regular season just trying to sneak into the playoffs. The team went 8-0-2 down the stretch to secure the eighth seed. The Avs haven’t lost back-to-back games since mid-March.
“Every game was kind of an elimination game for us, so to speak,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “We didn’t have a choice.”
The last time Colorado won Game 6 when facing a 3-2 deficit was the 2002 conference semifinals, which also happened to be against San Jose. The Avalanche then knocked off the Sharks 1-0 in Game 7.
Nathan MacKinnon nearly gave Colorado a 4-2 advantage late in the game, but his attempt was deflected away by the stick of Burns. Soon after, Vlasic tied it up when he banked a shot off the right skate of Colorado defenseman Nikita Zadorov. It all was set up when Zadorov broke his stick on the play and Landeskog handed him his.
Colorado took a one-goal lead on two separate occasions in the second period, only to have the Sharks tie it right back up. After Jost scored, Vlasic answered. And after Compher’s goal from the blue line, Burns responded with 9.8 seconds left.
It was a painful second period for Mikko Rantanen, who took a hip check from Burns in the right hip/thigh area. Rantanen immediately went to the bench and into the locker room. Rantanen gingerly returned about 4 minutes later.
Colorado hit two posts in a scoreless first period. Jones has surrendered just one goal to Colorado in the opening period all series.
Sharks captain Joe Pavelski made another step toward a return as he went through drills Monday morning at Pepsi Center. He’s been out since his head slammed against the ice in Game 7 of a first-round series against Vegas.
“It still really is day-to-day,” Pavelski said. “Wish I had a set-in-stone answer – go here, do this and be ready. We’re taking everything into play.”