BRIGHTON, Mass – The job of building Tuukka Rask back up to form continues this weekend as the Bruins goaltender will get his third consecutive start in a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Flyers in Philly.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that his No. 1 netminder will get the call against the hapless Flyers after Rask ended a personal four-game losing streak Wednesday against the Lightning. Backup Anton Khudobin will get a start on Monday night against the Nashville Predators. Clearly, it’s a balancing act for the Black and Gold between getting Rask fully back on track and keeping Khudobin in the zone that’s pushed him to a 7-0-2 record to start the season.
It’s not an easy trick to pull off, but neither was pulling the team back from oblivion when Cassidy made the bold choice to bench Rask for four games in a row in favor his red-hot backup. That gut-instinct move has paid off huge dividends for a B’s team that’s won five of six and is back in a playoff spot after hovering near the bottom of the conference in mid-November.
“They’ll split the games. Tuukka will play [on Saturday] and Khudobin will go on Monday and we’ll go from there after that,” said Cassidy. “Doby, you don’t want him to sit for too long. We’ve kind of documented why we went with Tuukka consecutively rather than [Khudobin] and we’ll see how it works out. We’ll give them one start each and then assess next week.”
Rask has stopped 51 of 56 shots in the two starts against Edmonton and Tampa Bay for a .911 save percentage that’s at least a little closer to his norm from the past couple of seasons, but there’s still an element of shakiness in the goalie’s game that will only be vanquished with a puck-stopping cocktail of steady playing time, some good results, continued competition - in the form of Khudobin - and a solid helping of confidence.
There’s really no other choice but a ride-or-die attitude when it comes to the Bruins and Rask, however. Even amidst his struggles, he’s clearly the only goaltender in the organization who’s going to be able to take the Bruins to the playoffs and handle the starter’s workload that’s still in front of the Black and Gold.
For all of the good things he’s done this season, Khudobin has shown in his NHL career that he’ll either get hurt or wear down over a full season with a starting goalie’s workload and young goalie Zane McIntyre has taken a step back with Providence this season sporting very pedestrian AHL numbers with a .898 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average.
Khudobin can certainly push Rask for short bursts of time and could continue to make it closer to an even split of starts than anybody dreamed of at the beginning of the year, but it's clear the Bruins know who they're goalie is going to be when it matters most this season.
There may be an effort to revisit the goaltending situation this summer and whether the Bruins have to explore other ways to improve their current group. That's something they absolutely should do while figuring out where their goalie of the (near) future might be becoming from.
Still, the Bruins are doing the right thing building Rask back up into fine working order with this string of starts that continues Saturday in Philly.