By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Let’s be real: If the Bruins do not escape their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the following discussion on Tuukka Rask is a lot different. I’d be dumb to try and tell you otherwise. Lose that series to the upstart Maple Leafs — and with Rask posting a save percentage well under .900, no less — and I’m almost certain that the Bruins take a long, hard look at the sustainability of their goaltending situation and legitimately explore the idea of an offseason trade.
But the B’s managed to advance in spite of the leaky goaltending and skated into round two, where even in a five-game series loss to the Lightning, Rask proved that he could still be part of the ultimate solution (a Stanley Cup) in Boston.
So if you’re spending your first full week of elimination life still lamenting the play of Rask, perhaps you should get a clue.
Or at the very least look around what the rest of the second round’s masked men offered up.
Start with last night’s Game 7 debacle in Nashville.
Pekka Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist, was pulled after surrendering two goals on seven shots in the opening 10 minutes of a 5-1 loss. It wasn’t like these were just so unfortunate bounces that went Winnipeg’s way, either. The goals that Rinne surrendered honestly looked like goals given up when you play pick-up and your goalie gets injured, leaving the dude who vomits in between shifts to put on goalie pads two sizes too big for him and play net for the first time in his life. This also meant that Rinne, who also makes $7 million per season, was pulled from three of his seven starts in this series.
His postseason ends with a 7-6 record to go with a .903 save percentage and 3.07 goals against average. Overall, Rinne’s Game 7 numbers include just one win and an .886 save percentage in three games. And if we want to go deep into his ‘clutch’ play, when the Preds have been against the wall in a win-or-out Game 6, Rinne’s record is 2-4 with a .903 save percentage.
He’s put up those lousy numbers while skating behind a Nashville defense we’ve all agreed is among the best in all of hockey.
But maybe you’re not a Rinne guy. Maybe you believe that the Bruins would have been better off trading Rask in 2015 and rolling with Martin Jones, whom they acquired from the L.A. Kings and almost immediately flipped to San Jose.
Ah, glad you brought Jones up.
Jones was pulled from two of his six second-round starts against the Golden Knights, gave up some downright disastrous and undoubtedly back-breaking goals, and finished the second-round with an .895 save percentage. Since taking to the Sharks to the Cup Finals in his first season as a starter, Jones has lost in the first round and now the second round. Jones and Rask are tied in victories since 2015, too, at 102, despite Jones having made 21 more starts than Boston’s Rask. His save percentage is also .001 lower than Tuukka’s. And like Rinne, he’s done this all while behind a defense much, much better than anything Rask has had over that span. Jones begins his extension with a $5.75 million cap hit next season.
But let’s stay round specific, just so we remain relevant here.
Here’s a stat for you: Only the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck spent more time tending his net with his team trailing than Rask did in the second round. Hellebuyck’s team trailed for 150:45 of action with him in net, while Rask’s Bruins trailed for a total of 133:19 with Rask in net. This is where I should remind you that Hellebuyck’s Jets played two more games than Rask and the Bruins. Over that sample, however, Rask stopped four of the 64 shots thrown his way, good for a .938 save percentage when trailing. He also stopped all but two of the 26 all-situation high-danger scoring chances thrown his way over that span. Jones and Rinne had dueling .833 save percentages when trailing, by the way, meaning the bleeding could not be stopped.
This says Rask successfully kept the Bruins, repeatedly and relentlessly dominated in their own zone this series, in games.
But I can hear Mike screaming at me from here. “Well if they were trailing in games that was the goalie’s fault!”
Take a look back. When they trailed in Game 2, sure, I’ll admit that Rask should have made some stops to preserve a tied contest. Specifically on the Tyler Johnson goal that saw Rask do a Thriller-esque move that took him out of position and opened up the cage for Johnson. But in Game 3, you saw Matt Grzelcyk play a pop-up like a grounder for some inexplicable reason (still don’t get it), giving the Bolts a two-on-one with Johnson and Ondrej Palat. And in Game 4, it was Brayden Point that jumped on a Rick Nash turnover, turnstiled Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara, and then pumped a second-chance opportunity home through Rask. The 31-year-old Rask’s biggest save in that game came when he denied the Bolts’ Steven Stamkos point blank on a breakaway that could have deflated that team long before the McAvoy non-call.
And when under the pressure of a T.B. power play that entered the second round with goals on five of their 19 opportunities, Rask did his part to keep them at bay, with saves on 21-of-25 shots against while on the kill. Oh, and one of those power-play goals against came when Rask was on skate, so there’s that. But that .840 save percentage was the fourth-best among goalies in round two, by the way. And while it may not be the sexiest number itself, it’s also important to remember that the Bruins were shorthanded 19 times in this five-game series, and were playing down a man for 32:01 of a 303-minute series.
Again, Rask largely kept you in contests that other goalies clearly would not have been unable to in this round.
Of course, I know this won’t do anything to many from resorting to emotion-based arguments that claim it just doesn’t look like Rask cares or that he’s still not capable of stealing games for the Bruins. But when you look at the alternatives of round two, and specifically those that did not advance, it’s clear that it’s not Rask that’s holding the Bruins back.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.