By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
A 16-of-21 performance in a 6-3 loss is not how Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask wanted to end his regular season.
That fifth goal surrendered on Saturday, a weak wrister from Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn, was especially heinous.
But Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t about to lose faith in Rask entering the postseason.
“I don’t think he’s that concerned about [his performance] other than he’s a professional and wants to play well every time he’s in the net,” Cassidy said after Saturday’s defeat. “We gave up two breakaway goals, so some of that we have to be better in front of him. I don’t know if the last one…one definitely went off [Danton] Heinen’s stick, so there were some deflected ones.
“I believe he’ll be ready to go Thursday and in good form, but that’s why we play the games. We’ll find out.”
While a 6-3 loss to a record-tying good Lightning team isn’t necessarily cause for concern, the loss appeared to be just a continuation of Rask’s recent struggles, as the Finnish netminder has a 6-5-0 record and .881 save percentage since Mar. 1. That .881 is actually the second-worst mark among NHL goaltenders with at least 11 appearances since then, ahead of only Jonathan Quick and his disastrous .872 for a legitimately unwatchable Kings group.
But this is where the Black and Gold coaching staff now put their faith in their regular season plan, which saw Rask in net for just 44 starts in all, his fewest in any full season since becoming the B’s full-time starter seven seasons ago, being rewarded.
“It certainly would be one of his better [seasons], I would assume,” Cassidy, who described Rask’s regular season as ‘very good’, said of his goaltender. “I think he’s very fresh going into the playoffs. Some years in the past, you could ask him that if he was or wasn’t. I know he is. He hasn’t been overworked, so that’s a positive. You like that out of your goaltender, especially if you – every team, generally, will lean on their goaltender at some point. I think he’s responded well this year to not playing as much. He’s had good years where he’s played more, so like I said, only he can answer where he’s truly at.”
“I can’t see why not,” Rask said when asked about the lighter workload benefitting him beginning next week. “I think both of us – we got in a rhythm, played a lot of games, felt good about our games. So, I think it benefits our team for sure.”
There’s no doubt that the 32-year-old Rask will have a shorter rope than in year’s past, though, as the B’s may have Rask’s best backup since 2010 Tim Thomas with Jaroslav Halak behind him and ready to go if needed.
Halak proved to be a beyond solid option for the Bruins this year, with 22 wins and a .922 save percentage for the Black and Gold, and is an accomplished goaltender with 30 games of playoff experience in his career (last coming in 2015 with the Isles).
And by now, it’s clear that Cassidy will not be afraid to turn to him if things continue to go south for No. 40.
But despite the shaky performances of late — as well as a rough first round showing against Toronto last spring — doesn’t seem to be dreading what awaits him next week against the Maple Leafs.
“Let’s get it going,” Rask said of the postseason. “Best time of the year.”
Rask has a 35-30 record and .924 save percentage in 65 career postseason games.