One game. One single playoff game in 2021 and The Tuukka Rask Debate is raging on like only it can.
This honestly might be a record.
Named the Bruins’ postseason starter long before the Bruins took to the ice for Saturday night’s Game 1 at Capital One Arena, the 34-year-old Rask kicked off his postseason with a 29-save overtime loss. It wasn’t Rask’s worst effort, and it wasn’t his best. But it undoubtedly wasn’t helped by a bitter ending that came complete with an ugly-looking game-winning goal against featuring a bounce off Rask’s crest, a flutter down between his legs, and then a trickle over the line for an 0-1 series hole.
The takes were as hot as they were predictable.
But because I’m a glutton for punishment, let me say it once again: If you’re biggest takeaway from this contest was that Rask let the Bruins down and was the reason they lost, you simply weren’t paying attention to the real issues. Yes, everybody and their mother (and their father for that matter) would like to see Rask make that stop. But with the original shot certainly appearing set to fly over his net, Nic Dowd’s tip opened the door for screwiness. It, obviously, came.
With that in mind, let’s rewind to Rask’s regulation.
Through 60 minutes of action, Rask stopped 29 of the 31 shots faced. That, by almost all measures, is enough to win you a game if the team in front of him does their job at the other of the rink. “But you need your goalie to steal you a game!” Yes, you absolutely do need that to go on a deep playoff run. The facts are the facts when it comes to that mantra. But Game 1? Against Craig Anderson, a third-string goaltender who had spent almost the entire year on Washington’s taxi squad, played a total of 168 minutes this season, and entered as an in-game injury replacement for Vitek Vanecek? If this is the game the Bruins need Rask to steal, I have some extremely bad news about the fate of this postseason run. Rask’s steals are necessary when you’re going against a Semyon Varlamov or an Andrei Vasilevskiy, not in Game 1 against 2021 Craig Anderson.
As for the goals against in regulation, the first came as a result of a Charlie McAvoy broken stick that forced him to (hopelessly) soccer-style defend on an odd-man rush, and the second was tipped home by Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon.
In a night of horrible luck ending up in Rask’s net, perhaps it was only fitting that it ended the way it did.
But Rask’s best work of the evening came in crunch-time, with a great sequence of stops with the Capitals absolutely burying Boston in their own end for four shots on goal, including two great looks from Lars Eller, in a span of less than 50 seconds.
Those were undeniably big stops from No. 40.
And the Bruins rewarded those big stops with… four total shots over the final 9:49 of the game, and with just one of those four shots coming from within 45 feet of Anderson’s net. If the deal is Rask picks a team up and they reward him, then actually reward him for the pickup at a rate higher than one actual chance per 10 minutes of play. That did not happen in this contest.
In fact, the Bruins hit a low they haven’t in actual years, as their 21 missed shots were their most in a single game since a late December tilt in Buffalo back in 2018. Captain Patrice Bergeron led the way in misses, with five. The B’s also failed to get a goal from a member of their top six for the just the second time since the trade deadline, and Brad Marchand and Bergeron combined for just one shot. And had it not been for a double-deflection on the power play, the Boston man advantage would’ve finished night with an 0-for-4 mark and had their only goal of the evening come from their fourth-ling left wing.
For all the talk of a goalie picking up a team on a bad night, the Bruins failed to make Rask’s pickups matter and hardly made Anderson sweat. And in a spot where he should’ve been made to sweat from start to finish, with rubber on rubber on rubber.
We should be able to say that without turning the entire thing into a referendum on Rask’s entire career and going through the irrelevant-in-the-present list of past failures. Because asking for more from both the goaltender and the team in front of him shouldn’t be considered a one or the other kind of thing. It can be both. Hell, it probably was both in Game 1.
Saying that will probably make me a co-conspirator in the criminal charges a weird and deranged sect of Bruins fans want to throw at Rask, and at this point, I just don’t care. The argument has lost all meaning. It’s been lost for a while now. We’re all too dug in to have rational thoughts on the subject, and if you’ve read this far, you either think I’m a brilliant madman speaking the truth in a sea of nonsense or a complete bozo trying to excuse another choke. The truth, as is the case with the Rask debate, is probably somewhere in the middle.
But for me, panic over the first game and Rask’s performance comes down to two simple beliefs…
One: You’re not going to get me to come down from a belief that a goaltender who surrenders only two goals in 60 minutes of regulation, and with his team getting their teeth kicked in from a shot standpoint for large segments of that game, failed to do their job. With this team, and this offense, asking for three goals — and against a cold Craig Anderson! — isn’t outrageous.
Two: You’re not going to get me to suddenly believe that the Anti-Rask Crew, which has mocked those of us labeled as part of the ‘Boo-Hoo Tuukka Crew’ for believing that Rask is a pretty dang good NHL goaltender, has a leg to stand on when they try claiming that Game 1 was this super-important, must-have game when they’ve spent the last eight years scoffing at the idea that performances in anything other than Game 6 and 7 are meaningful.
It’s just not consistent.
Then again, almost nothing is when it comes to this Forever Fight. That, this time around, includes the timeline.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.