In a must-win spot behind enemy lines, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is sticking with his guy.
Tuukka Rask, who was lifted from Game 5 after he allowed four goals on 16 shots and “wasn’t himself,” is well enough to start tonight’s do-or-die tilt on Long Island. And for Cassidy, it’s as simple as that.
Across the board, actually.
Before everybody gets all hot and bothered with this decision, it’s important to remember that the Bruins have decided to play a less-than-100-percent Rask all postseason. And up until Monday, you couldn’t argue with the results. Before Monday’s Game 5, Rask was beyond on top of his game, with a postseason-best .936 save percentage and advanced metrics that painted him as one of the top goalies this postseason behind the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Colorado’s Phil Grubauer.
An unwavering commitment to playing a let’s say 80 percent Rask over a 100 percent Jeremy Swayman, who dazzled with a .945 save percentage in his 10 regular season appearances, has always been there for the Bruins this spring.
It was there even after the team’s Game 5 loss, too. Instead of throwing the loss on his goaltender, who at times looked stiff and sluggish, Cassidy instead called out his defense for weak coverage in front of both Rask and Swayman. Watching the New York goals, it was undeniable. This was the rare 19-shot shooting gallery. It was point-blank chance after point-blank chance.
Goalies be damned, the Bruins believe that’s the No. 1 thing they’ll need to fix between Games 5 and 6. They’re not wrong. The personnel in front of the Boston net isn’t going to improve in Game 6, however, as both Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller will remain out of action for Cassidy’s squad. The Bruins will also be without fourth-line center Curtis Lazar.
That spot, while obviously not ideal, still favors an 80 percent Rask in the eyes of the Bruins.
Let’s also be real: This would be a horrible spot for Swayman.
Rarely, if ever, do you see a coach turn to a rookie for the first time in a do-or-die spot. A coach would like to give his guy at least one game of wiggle room, so if there was a time for the Bruins to make the switch to Swayman (if only just for a game), it was in Game 5 on Boston ice and in a tied series and after Rask’s injury woes may have been legitimate enough to keep him out of the team’s morning skate. That’s a decision that we’ll second-guess if the Bruins lose, even if Cassidy won’t. But going to Swayman in a must-win situation with 12,000 Islander maniacs screaming behind him? Yeah, hard pass. Especially when Swayman’s third-period effort in Game 5 did little to create any sort of ‘goaltending controversy’ between the two.
Coming in cold, Swayman stopped two of three shots faced, but also let a gigantic rebound bounce out on one of the stops and seemed jumpy in his crease. It seemed that natural that nerves were there, and the defense didn’t help settle those.
The wrong call to a goaltender not ready for the moment can undo your season faster than a goalie playing through injury.
The Bruins have seen more positive than negative in regards to the latter, too.
And they’re simply too dug in and too far along on this current path to turn around. At least in this series. If the Bruins can pull this series off and complete a 3-2 comeback, there will certainly be talk of a goaltending rotation in round three against Tampa.
The B’s may be realizing that an every-other-day slate isn’t going to work an ailing Rask for four full rounds.
But everybody knew that this entire postseason had the feel of riding Rask until the wheels fall off. Monday was the first time that we have even considered that they may have fallen off. After almost 48 hours of treatment and a vote of confidence from the coaching staff, however, the Bruins are banking on Rask’s own words that if he’s out there, he’s good enough to play.
In essence, Rask has quickly become Cassidy’s ride or die.
And on Wednesday, they hope it’s more ride than die.
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.