After starting Tuukka Rask in goal for Games 5 and 6 of the Bruins’ series loss to the New York Islanders, head coach Bruce Cassidy is facing some serious second-guessing.
The questions especially aren’t stopping now that Rask revealed he was playing through a torn labrum in his hip. Though Rask deserves a great deal of credit for powering through such a tough injury, particularly for a goaltender, it’s clear now that he didn’t necessarily give the Bruins the best chance to win those games in such a diminished physical state.
But did Jeremy Swayman? At that point in the playoffs, it’s unclear whether the young backup would have done any better than Rask, especially as the Islanders outplayed the Bruins in front of the goalies more as the series went along.
As Cassidy explained it in his exit interview with reporters on Monday, he and the players still felt that Rask was the best option. This decision is squarely on the head coach. Cassidy went into great detail on the whole process with speaking to Rask before and after Games 5 and 6, and deciding to go with him over Swayman.
“Obviously, Tuukka’s acknowledged that he was playing hurt,” Cassidy said. “He met with us every day – medical staff, myself, ‘Goalie Bob’ [goaltenders coach Bob Essensa] – to go through his status. Particularly in the playoffs. This was an injury that occurred – he played Game 1 with it against Washington right through to, obviously, Game 6 in New York. So, you know, it was the same injury, sort of the same player dealing with it. We just got different results in the second round. Obviously, some of that is team-oriented in both the first and the second round. You don’t put everything on the goalie when you lose, just like you don’t when you win. So, in that case, we were never going to run out a player that wasn’t fit to play.
“So, it first passed through him, then, alluding to your question, and he regularly told us he was ready to go. [There was an] incident in Game 5, after the second period, I thought he didn’t look as sharp. ‘Goalie Bob’ talked to him, he said he was lacking some energy. So we said, we’ll go with Swayman in the third, and then we’ll sort it out in Game 6. And again, he came back the next day, said he was feeling better, go through his routine, his maintenance. He didn’t skate a lot between games, get the morning skate in and felt ready to go. So then it comes on to me. I have to make the final call, who gives us the best chance to win, and I chose Tuukka. So, no regrets on that. We feel he gave us the best chance to win. It didn’t work out that way. Some of those decisions also go through the leadership group, ‘where you guys at’ in terms of your mental psyche with the goaltending, and they were all on board with Tuukka as well. They certainly believe in Swayman, but Tuukka’s been there and done it.
“So, that’s where that decision came from, and at the end of the day, it didn’t work out. So you’re always going to sort of analyze some things that happened after the series, but that’s when we felt he gave us the best chance to win. That was the decision. He was healthy to play, had played, played well. And that was that.”
Game 6 would have been an incredibly tough spot for a young, inexperienced goaltender, despite Swayman showing a lot of promise in 10 regular-season starts (7-3, 1.50 goals against average, .945 save percentage). Ostensibly, the Bruins wanted to stay cautious with Swayman, without potentially damaging him psychologically or jeopardizing his confidence heading into next season.
With Rask, the decision to shut him down really should have come before the playoffs even started. By Game 6 against the Isles, they apparently decided that they’d made their bed and will live and die by their longtime starter.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur would’ve had a tough time stealing Game 6 for the Bruins. But would it have been worth the risk to try Swayman? It’s a question we’ll be left asking for a long time.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.