Bruins Summer Series: Tuukka Rask still has that one mountain to climb

Bruins Summer Series: Tuukka Rask still has that one mountain to climb

Today’s piece on Tuukka Rask is the fourth in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

Tuukka Rask is still to this point the most polarizing player on the entire Boston Bruins roster.

He’s still a No. 1 goaltender based on his performances during the regular season and the long stretches when he can dominate between the pipes. The 15 wins and .934 save percentage during this spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs were Rask at his best with masterful performances in each of the first three rounds vs. Toronto, Columbus and Carolina that catapulted the Black and Gold to the Stanley Cup Final in the first place.

But the .912 save percentage against the Blues was pretty ordinary in the Cup Final, and Rask’s performance in Game 7 was just as average as most of the rest of his Bruins teammates in a heartbreaking result. The 32-year-old Rask still has yet to lead this Bruins team to the Stanley Cup, and there will be questions surrounding him until he can get over that hump.

Still, the Bruins figured something out this season and it’s part of the reason Rask and the B’s made it all the way to the Cup Final.

Actually, they figured it out a couple of seasons ago, but weren’t fully able to address it until this past season when they signed Jaroslav Halak as their backup goaltender.

Halak played in a whopping 40 games, posted a .922 save percentage and actually outplayed Rask for big stretches of the season before the Bruins No. 1 guy settled into a groove in the second half of the regular season. The rest provided Rask in starting just 45 games is the key for him to be physically and mentally ready for the rigors of the postseason, and this past spring was a shining example of that.

“The way that Jaro played for us this year really helped Tuukka get some rest. We’ve seen when Tuukka’s workload gets too high he really starts to break down,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an interview with NBC Sports Boston. “I think the fact Jaro had such a great year and we were able to rely on him, and even [Anton Khudobin] had a great year the year before, that really allows us to maybe reduce Tuukka’s starts a little bit. We could keep him a little fresher this year and I think it made a really big difference in the playoffs.”

Things should actually be set up for pretty close to the status quo next season as well. Rask is signed for two more seasons at a $7 million cap hit that’s looking more reasonable by the month, and Halak will be returning next season for backup duty.

So the Bruins should be ready to enact this past season’s division of labor between Rask and Halak, and then hope that their Finnish franchise goaltender can once again catch fire during the postseason as he did a few months ago.

The big question is whether Rask will ever be able to push the Bruins over the top and actually win the Cup after two “close but no cigar” experiences in the Cup Final that include the heart-wrenching end to the St. Louis series.

This past spring really took a stick of dynamite to the notion that Rask isn’t a big game goaltender, but the truth is still that he was pretty ordinary in the biggest game of his career when it all came down to 60 minutes vs. the Blues in Game 7 two months ago.

Rask still has at least a couple of seasons to help right that wrong after coming oh-so-close to the perfect Stanley Cup playoff body of work.

Key stat: .927 – Tuukka Rask’s career save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which ranks fourth among active NHL goalies behind Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop and Braden Holtby.

Rask in his own words: “It’s over. Great season. Great run. But it’s over. It was a great run, but we fell one win short. You’ll always think about what happened, but there’s nothing you can do about it now. You just need to be proud of how you battled and how everybody worked together. It’s sports. It’s not fair. One team has to win and one team has to lose.” 

The biggest question he faces: Rask needs to win the Cup for the Bruins at this point in his career, plain and simple. After falling short with the Bruins in 2013 and 2019 in the Stanley Cup Final while Tim Thomas threw a shutout to clinch the Cup in 2011, it’s pretty clear what Rask needs to do if he gets to that point ever again.

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Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

BRIGHTON, Mass – With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo now signed and in training camp, the news is overwhelmingly positive for the Black and Gold with a full camp roster highlighted by players returning from last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“The band is back together now, eh?” said a smiling Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about it on Wednesday afternoon with everybody on the ice and Patrice Bergeron seemingly healthy with no restrictions, either.

But a slew of returning players and avoided contract snafus also means few open spots on the NHL roster with the start of the regular season just a couple of weeks ago. For some players, the clock is running short on their time to make an impact and become part of a Bruins group expected to once again compete and go deep in the playoffs this season.

Bruins prospects like 23-year-old Anders Bjork, 22-year-old Zach Senyshyn and 22-year-old Jakub Zboril are at a major crossroads with the Black and Gold entering this season. All three enter the final year of their entry level deals, as do Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Fitzgerald and Karson Kuhlman, and need to begin making a bigger impact if they want to remain within the organization.

“Those guys are in the last year of their entry deals. It is important. You’re playing for your spot here in Boston, but also for your livelihood. You want to earn that next contract, and for some guys it takes a little bit longer,” said Cassidy. “They should be farther down the line than a guy like [Oskar] Steen that’s just coming in here and it’s all new to them. You’d expect those guys to push through.

“It’s just the circle of life so to speak. You have guys turning pro every year and we’ve got to make room for them. It’s kind of time to separate yourself. You should be the first call-up if you’re in that situation, and that should be your goal.”

Certainly Bjork is in a bit of a different category since he’s already played 50 NHL games, and a pair of shoulder surgeries have played a big role in holding back his development. But for Zboril and Senyshyn, former first round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, it’s getting to become now or never time after a couple of “just okay” seasons at the AHL level.

Zboril has put identical four goal, 19-point seasons at the AHL over the last two seasons in Providence, and did so last year while playing in 12 fewer games for the P-Bruins. Senyshyn finished with 14 goals and 24 points last season for Providence, a pair of points less than he scored in his first pro season while playing in 66 games both seasons.

Zboril hasn’t really tapped into the offensive end of his game that many projected for him when he was in junior hockey, and Senyshyn hasn’t much resembled the guy that scored 40-plus goals in the OHL during his junior career. The Bruins are still searching for a top-6 right wing to play with David Krejci, and that should be Senyshyn based on his age and where he was drafted.

It just hasn’t happened to this point as the undrafted Kuhlman took that spot in the Bruins lineup during the Stanley Cup Final, and open auditions are once again there for the spot this fall in training camp.

Each now has some NHL games under their belt, but both were also surpassed organizationally by Connor Clifton and Kuhlman last season when injuries hit the Black and Gold at the NHL level. That’s a pretty telling statement about where both Zboril and Senyshyn are currently at in the organization, and an indicator that they both need to step up their games. If not, the bust term is going to be applied to two of the three first round picks from the 2015 NHL draft where the Bruins became the first team in history to make three consecutive first round selections.

“I’m just trying to show my details and show my work ethic and use my speed to take pucks to the net,” said Senyshyn, who said that playing a couple of games in the NHL last season has ‘lit a fire under me.’ “I think doing the little details that I’ve done the last couple of years in Providence is going to be big. I just have to trust my game and play with confidence.”

At this point, Zboril and Senyshyn are never going to be able to make people forget that players like Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot and Brock Boeser were selected shortly after them in that infamous first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. But they can make sure they are of use to the B’s organization and still attempt to develop into the impact players that Bruins scouts once clearly envisioned them to be four years ago.

If it doesn’t happen this season then it probably won’t be long before either of them, or both, might be facing an uphill battle in another NHL organization that doesn’t have as much invested in them.

Bruins prefer to leave Charlie Coyle at third-line center>>>

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Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

File photo

Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

BRIGHTON -- There was some question as to whether Charlie Coyle might get a little time at wing this season for the Bruins after locking things down at the third line center position last season after coming over in trade from the Minnesota Wild.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Coyle brought two-way play, puck possession and offensive upside to the third line upon his arrival, and then he really stepped it up in the playoffs with nine goals and 16 points in his 24 games. So naturally, there is curiosity as to whether his size, strength and offense could move up to right wing on the second line where his game could be paired pretty comfortably with playmaking David Krejci.

Or even more radically, Coyle’s size and strength could make an interesting match on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

But it sounds like the Bruins are going to keep things strong down the middle with Bergeron and Krejci as their top-6 centers and Coyle and Sean Kuraly as the bottom-6 centers giving the B's depth and quality down the middle of the lineup. Coyle was centering Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen at practice on Wednesday afternoon and has played center throughout training camp.

It may be getting to a point now where they don’t want to fool around with things by switching Coyle’s positions on him as happened in Minnesota, and it certainly sounds like Cassidy’s preference is to leave him at center.

“Generally speaking the match-up is the D-pair and the centerman down low. The wingers obviously matter, but they are less of a factor. At least that’s what I think when I think match-ups. So to have Charlie [Coyle] in there [at center] now, and my intention is to keep him there unless the team would be better served with him on the wing,” said Cassidy. “Right now, we like the way we played last year and hopefully this year. It makes you a lot more comfortable in terms of defending.”

Cassidy reserved the right to change his mind if Trent Frederic really comes along as an NHL-ready center or if all of the top-6 right wing candidates end up dropping the ball in training camp. That doesn’t appear to be the case over the first week of training camp and that may just mean Coyle stays in his comfortable position at center where he gives the Bruins the lineup depth that helped catapult them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

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