One decision can make or break an entire postseason run.
And with the Bruins down 3-2 in their second-round series with the Islanders, and with a less-than-100 percent Tuukka Rask yanked from the team’s Game 5 loss after both being and looking the part, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy found himself answering for his decision to trot Rask out for a potentially season-altering loss.
Now, under most circumstances, the decision to play Rask would not have been questioned, and rightfully so.
Rask has looked strong this postseason despite the health concerns, and he entered Monday’s game with a playoff-best .936 save percentage. But then the Bruins kept Rask out of the team’s morning skate (he did get in some work with a couple of Boston shooters, but was not a full participant in the skate), which fueled some speculation that Rask was not going to be able to play in Monday’s game. (The Bruins, for what it’s worth, seemed a bit surprised by the rampant speculation generated online and on the daily talk shows.) All indications were that Rask was going to play, and indeed he did, with zero doubt, as it was Rask who led the team out for warmups, the game, and for the second period.
But after he was lifted after surrendering four goals on 16 shots, the questions were naturally there. But to Cassidy, who has stood behind his goaltender throughout his bid to give it everything left in his tank, the second-guessing was not.
“I’m not going to second guess it, to be honest with you, because it’s a decision we felt was the right one,” Cassidy said. “We gotta make those decisions. We try to give you as much as information as possible, but there’s certain things that stay in house here. We factored in a number of different things.”
What exactly were those factors?
“First of all, we’re happy with his performance,” said Cassidy. “He’s been better than he was yesterday, but we weren’t good enough in front of him as well. Let’s face it: You need your goaltender to bail you out when you’re not. It didn’t happen yesterday. It has happened in other games, it has happened in the previous series, so we’re not dissatisfied with Tuukka’s play.
“There is some health issues. We know that he missed some time this year. We’re not going to get into them [or] where it’s at, does it affect his game, all those. There’s also a lot of games in a row he’s played. So that, at some point, could be an issue in the playoffs. So there’s a lot of things that go into it [like] where we’re at in the game. And just sometimes you also make a decision not for a spark, but OK, considering all these things, is this the time? So there’s a number of that we go [through] between periods and we discuss with the player and that’s that.”
It probably didn’t help that the call to a cold Jeremy Swayman likely came one or two goals too late, and Swayman’s performance (two saves on just three shots, and a bad-luck loss to his name) reflected that. It was perhaps the worst spot to throw Swayman into the mix, too, especially considering the Bruins’ defensive missteps in the loss, and made you think what he would’ve been able to do had he been named the starter with a cleaner sheet and with a full day to prepare for the moment.
“At the end of the day, do we win if we don’t pull Tuukka? I don’t know. I have no idea,” Cassidy admitted. “We scored two goals and let one in in the third. Thought we were pushing well, didn’t go our way.”
Throwing Swayman into the postseason fire with the series tied at 2-2 and on home ice versus potentially having to turn to him in a must-win situation and on the road behind a battered defense is such a genuinely absurd difference that’s actually there’s no way the decision wasn’t going to second-guessed once Monday’s loss went final.
But with nowhere to look but forward, Cassidy is focused on what they can fix to stay alive for a Game 7 in Boston.
“We’re moving on and and we’ll see who gets the net in Game 6,” Cassidy remarked. “Some of that is dependent on what we just talked about. So, again, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be better in front of Tuukka defensively. We’ve got to tighten up on the penalty kill. We’ve got to clean some of those areas up. We can’t be giving up those point-blank chances. And when we do, we need him to make make some saves for us. That’s the formula and it’s always been a formula, especially in the playoffs. Every team needs it. You need some key saves. You’re not going to be perfect. You also have to be good in front of your goaltender, right. So we’ve got to fix those two things.
“That was the biggest takeaway from the game last night: we need to do better and need to coach better.”
And the ‘idea’ of coaching better may very well begin with Cassidy’s decision in goal.
And if we’re able to second-guess it by the end of the night.
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.