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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David Pastrnak's value to Bruins summed up in absurd goal scoring stat


David Pastrnak's value to Bruins summed up in absurd goal scoring stat

Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak is tied with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for the NHL goal scoring lead with 43 apiece, but the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy isn't the only award the B's star could win this season.

Pastrnak also ranks among the leading candidates for the Hart Trophy, which is given to the league's most valuable player. The 23-year-old forward is well on his way to becoming the Bruins' first 50-goal scorer since Hall of Fame forward Cam Neely accomplished the feat during the 1993-94 campaign. Pastrnak's latest goal was a game-winner in overtime Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.

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It's not just the sheer amount of goals Pastrnak has scored that's impressive, it's how much of Boston's total offensive production he plays a direct part in creating. No player has scored a higher percentage of his team's goals this season than Pastrnak. Check out the crazy stat below:

In addition to 43 goals, Pastrnak also has tallied 41 assists, which ranks second on the B's. His 84 points place him in a second place tie for the Art Ross Trophy, which is given to the league's leading scorer. It's unlikely Pastrnak will lead the league in scoring, though, as Oilers star Leon Draisaitl leads all players with 95 points.

Pastrnak is enjoying one of the best seasons by a Bruin in a long time, and he has a chance to join Phil Esposito as the only B's players to score 60-plus goals in a single campaign.

Haggerty: Here's what Bruins need to add at deadline

NHL rumors: Latest Chris Kreider asking price before trade deadline revealed

NHL rumors: Latest Chris Kreider asking price before trade deadline revealed

Teams hoping to acquire New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider before Monday's NHL trade deadline need to be prepared to pay a hefty price.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie was on NBC Sports' "Our Line Starts" podcast Wednesday and gave an update on Kreider's situation in New York, including what it would cost to pry him from the Rangers.

"It's going to be a first-round pick, a prospect and some other piece," McKenzie said. "Some other piece could be a player, it could be a lower-level prospect, it might be a lower-level draft pick, and there might be a conditional pick in there, too, if you re-sign him."

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Which teams are interested in landing Kreider?

"I got to believe the Boston Bruins are interested in Kreider, I got to believe the Colorado Avalanche are interested," McKenzie said. "I believe the New York Islanders have interest. I don't know what kind of premium the New York Islanders would have to pay to get a deal done with the New York Rangers. I think it would have to be a lot, because if you're the Rangers, the notion of Kreider coming in as an Islander -- I don't know, I'm just not sure about that. The Washington Capitals, I believe, have shown some interest in Chris Kreider, and I think the St. Louis Blues have had interest, although general manager Doug Armstrong said after the Marco Scandella trade that it wouldn't surprise him if that was the last deal they made before the deadline."

TSN reported Tuesday that the Bruins and Avalanche have emerged as frontrunners for Kreider, which makes a lot of sense.

The Bruins need secondary scoring to compliment the Perfection Line, and Kreider is a proven goal scorer who plays a power forward-style of hockey. He's hit the 20-goal mark in five of the last six seasons, including 24 tallies for the Rangers this season. The Avalanche have been hit hard by injuries, and the latest casualty was top-six forward Mikko Rantanen.

Both the Bruins and Avalanche have a really good chance to win the Stanley Cup this season, so it would behoove these teams to make a hard push for Kreider before the deadline.

Boston, in particular, needs to make some sort of impactful move at the deadline. The Bruins' three main competitors in the Eastern Conference -- the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals -- all have made at least one trade over the last two weeks. It would be a really bad look, and just poor management, to not give this Bruins team -- which owns the league's best record -- the additional depth needed for another lengthy playoff run.

Haggerty: Here's what Bruins need to add at deadline