By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Listen, we’re all entirely too dug in on The Tuukka Rask Debate. And it’s truly exhausting.
If you still think he’s still capable of delivering a Stanley Cup like I do, you’re gonna get called a member of The Boo-Hoo Tuukka Crew and get a bunch of losses thrown at your face as if you didn’t feel that same junk-kick. If you think he sucks and is a choking dog, I think you’re sippin’ on Grandpa Felgy’s cough syrup a little too much. If I tell you that this was a big win, it’s a team effort, and if it was a bad loss, the team no longer exists beyond him. By now, we all know where one another stands on the subject, and I know that making my case is the writing equivalent of punching myself in the face.
(Please don’t punch me in the face unless you’re gonna Venmo me at least $25.)
But there’s one thing us Boo-Hooers and the Felger Youth alike should love when it comes to Rask’s last few months, and that’s his ability to turn the page. In fact, the 33-year-old has made a habit of putting ugly losses in his rearview.
Since dropping a Dec. 19 contest against the Islanders, Rask has posted a 5-1-0 record in his first start after a loss. You’re talking about some big wins over that stretch, too. There’s a 39-of-42 performance against the Capitals, a 28-of-29 win over a desperate Montreal group, a 25-save road shutout over the Islanders, and now a 36-save blanking of the Flyers. His only blemish over that stretch was a four-on-30 showing against the Flames on Garden ice back on Feb. 25. (That was a stinker.)
But overall, you’re talking about a guy with wins in five of six and a .949 save percentage in such scenarios.
That’s damn good, and it’s become an almost expected result when given a shot at a bounceback.
“He was excellent,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked of his goaltender’s performance. “Tuukka, he didn’t have his best against Tampa. We expect him to bounce back fairly quickly, he usually does. So not surprised at all tonight that it he gave us solid effort. He’s a reason why we won.”
And please, don’t try to discount this one. This was a seriously charged-up head-to-head between two teams who could very well meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, and against a Philly squad that’s been one of the best in the league over the last few months, damn-near unbeatable at home this year, and with a white-hot power play. And Rask shut ’em down.
If you wanna chirp Rask for letting you down in a ‘big spot’ against the Lightning last Saturday (even after winning a bigger game against the Bolts earlier that week), you gotta give him credit for Tuesday’s performance full of big-time saves with the B’s lacking some jump. Them’s the rules, but by now I know that nobody will respect them.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 2-0 win in Philadelphia…
Lines get put in blender (on high) for first time since trade deadline
Things got straight-up wacky for the Bruins midway through this one, as Cassidy went back to his laboratory and did some serious line-shuffling for a Boston group that was failing to generate enough against the Flyers’ Carter Hart.
You saw Ondrej Kase promoted to the right side of the first line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Sean Kuraly and David Pastrnak moved to David Krejci’s wings, and Nick Ritchie moved to the left side of a third-line combo featuring Charlie Coyle at center and Jake DeBrusk remaining on his off-wing. It was perhaps his most drastic shifting to date.
“We weren’t generating enough, for one thing,” Cassidy said of the switches. “The Krejci line hasn’t been producing. So, let’s not stick with it tonight. Maybe revisit on Friday. Get Pasta with Krejci, maybe get him excited to play, they’ve been together before. And then the rest was just a fallout of guys having to move around. Someone had to go up with Bergy, Kase? Let’s take a look at him. We don’t know a lot about them. Kuraly is a good, responsible player with Krejci and Pasta. Ritchie then fell down with DeBrusk and Coyle, who can complement them, a Charlie Coyle getting to the net. Some of the things you play around in your mind when the trade happened with the new bodies. And at some point, you figure you may get to it. The Kuraly ones a bit of an outlier because he’s typically in a different spot. Because he’s playing left wing, he got a chance to move up. I thought he made some nice plays on that line. Showed some offensive acumen, so that that’s good to know.”
Did we learn anything from this? In my opinion, not really. Kuraly can hack it on your third line (I actually think his fit with Coyle has been extremely underrated and something the Bruins should take a deeper look at), but putting him on Krejci’s left seems like a misuse of everyone’s skillset. Kase is still a mysterious. He does a lot of little things really well, yeah, but at some point you wanna see the scoring come to the table. I mean, that’s a big reason why he’s here. Ritchie in a full-time top-six role? Whole lotta meh so far. Anders Bjork, scratched for a playoff-esque game yet again, remains in a manmade prison (the man who built that prison can currently be found toiling in the AHL and goes by the name of Peter Cehlarik).
I mean, this is all fine for now, but the Bruins really need to get this middle-six figured out before Game 1 of their first-round series. There’s just not a ton of chemistry beyond The Bergeron Line right now. The lack of chemistry with DeBrusk and Krejci has been a definitely noticeable problem for this team (and Cassidy has brought it up multiple times now), but it might be the Bruins’ best bet at slotting everything back in its right place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Zdeno Chara is developing a new habit
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has superhuman strength. And it appears he’s found a new way to show it off.
Just days after sending Mikhail Sergachev’s stick to the moon after the two had a heated exchange behind the Tampa Bay net, Chara decided to take his stick-whipping tricks to the Wells Fargo Center, as he did the same to the stick of Flyers center Sean Couturier during a Boston penalty kill. He seriously just nope’d the hell out of his stick.
It’s the best bit of the season, even if we had to wait until Game No. 69 to experience the absurdity of it all.
With another B’s win and TB loss, does rest now become part of B’s plans?
For all intents and purposes, the Atlantic is wrapped up, the East is wrapped up, and the Presidents’ Trophy is wrapped up. The Bruins, if they do everything juuuuust right this spring, will have the rarest of rare chances in hockey: A second chance on home ice in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’d complete what’s looking like a revenge tour of sorts from the Bruins.
With Tuesday’s win for the B’s and a loss for the Lightning, the Bruins currently find themselves eight points up on the Lightning. The Bolts, mind you, are the closest team to the B’s in the Atlantic and the East, and they’re tied with the Blues for the second-most points in hockey. For context here, the Lightning would need to erase an eight-point gap over the next 12 games. So you’re talking about the Bruins going something like 3-9-0 and Tampa Bay going 7-4-1 at the very least. It’s possible, but it seems relatively unlikely, especially when you look at each team’s schedule to close out the season.
In other words, rest should probably become a priority for the Black and Gold.
Now, the Bruins did have some plans to give some guys on the backend some rest (probably beginning with the soon-to-be 43-year-old captain) during this weekend’s upcoming back-to-back with the Sabres and Maple Leafs, but Cassidy noted on Monday that the injuries to Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo (both absent from Tuesday’s win) kinda flushed that idea down the drain. But Cassidy was asked about that possibility following Tuesday’s victory over the Flyers.
“Almost no matter what, we have some guys that have been through a lot,” Cassidy admitted. “Some guys went through a lot last year that are in their 30s, ones in his 40s. So, we have to discuss that, what’s best for the player? Does he need to stay sharp and play or could he use a little bit of time off? So, regardless what happened with Tampa, we have a plan in place going forward. When we talked about that… we have an upcoming West Coast trip. We have four games in one week, six days. So, it’s very taxing traveling around. So that’s something we looked at, we’ll look at closer. But again, that’s not until next week.”
If I’m the Bruins, all three members of your veteran spinal cord — Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci — aren’t suiting up for both games of any back-to-backs down the stretch. One, maybe two, sure. But not all three. Then again, I’m not the one having to tell these players they’re wearing a suit instead of hockey pads. Not the easiest sell.