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 on Bruins' loss to Calgary: 'They didn't break a sweat, some of them'

Bruce Cassidy on Bruins' loss to Calgary: 'They didn't break a sweat, some of them'

BOSTON – Sometimes a team plays with renewed energy and vigor in the first game with new players added after the NHL trade deadline.

And sometimes a team lays an egg despite the addition of new trade pieces as everybody searches for the right fit while moving on from the players dealt away ahead of the very same deadline. 

The Bruins were much more the former when they played a flat, “sleepy” game that ended with a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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It was the second loss in a row for a team that on Saturday night provided very little resistance in a rudderless, 9-3 blowout at the hands of the Canucks and left their coach wholly unimpressed after the loss to the Flames.

“[It was] clearly not good enough. I thought some guys came to play and some guys didn’t. [Some guys] didn’t break a sweat, some of them it looked like,” said Bruce Cassidy, right out of the gate after a game where the Bruins never held the lead. “I’m sure there was effort [and that] they were trying. They were just in-between, couldn’t execute or whatever. At the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough.”

Certainly, those direct words from Cassidy aren’t meant to be a pretty pointed message to the passengers on a  Bruins team that had just watched Danton Heinen get shipped off 24 hours prior to the Calgary game.

The Bruins coach could have pointed out plenty of things that were lacking, whether it was the rare, poor overall game from the Perfection Line aside from Brad Marchand’s shorthanded goal, or the lack of resistance from too many good players when Calgary scored the back-breaking fourth goal in the third period. 

On that one, David Krejci didn’t do enough on the back-check, Tuukka Rask left the five-hole wide open for Mikael Backlund and David Pastrnak never really got things going as the NHL’s leading scorer.

Surely, the just-concluded trip to Western Canada could be used as a travel-weary excuse by the Black and Gold, but those excuses should be pushed by the wayside for a team with big-time Stanley Cup playoff aspirations.

“We weren’t at our best for sure. We didn’t have it all the way through the game. We were a little sleepy, I guess, at times,” said Marchand, whose shorthanded tally tied it in at 1 in the second period before two more second-period Flames goals allowed Calgary to pull away. “It wasn’t our normal, upbeat, high-energy game, but it’s going to happen during an 82-game schedule. You’re not going to be perfect and unfortunately, we didn’t get this one.”

The Bruins will quickly dust off that performance, be happy that the Tampa Bay Lightning also lost so they stay five points behind Boston in the Atlantic Division and instead focus on getting the intensity back against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.


Bruins-Flames Talking Points: B's return home with a thud in 5-2 loss

Bruins-Flames Talking Points: B's return home with a thud in 5-2 loss

GOLD STAR: Mikael Backlund was heavily involved for the Calgary Flames whether it was on the negative end on Brad Marchand’s shorthanded goal or his two goals in the third period that pushed the game out of reach for Boston. 

It was Backlund that threw a puck off the boards to move around Torey Krug while springing himself free for a breakaway before throwing a five-hole attempt through Tuukka Rask for the back-breaking insurance strike.

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Backlund then added insult to injury with an empty-netter to give him two goals on the night, a three-point performance and a plus-2 rating in 18:14 of ice time. Backlund finished with three shot attempts, one hit and two takeaways along with taking 25 draws in the Flames' win.

BLACK EYE: David Krejci might have been one of the players that Bruce Cassidy wasn’t exactly enamored with after the loss after his disinterested back-check on the back-breaking fourth Calgary goal in the third period. Krejci finished a minus-2 with just one shot on net in 16:23 of ice time and forced Cassidy to switch up the left wingers when it was clear both Krejci and Jake DeBrusk weren’t getting it going.

It’s perhaps understandable in the first home game after a long road trip through Western Canada, but it still merits mention that No. 46 wasn’t very good for the Black and Gold. He wasn’t alone, but that minimal effort on a big play in the game was notable.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins brought a little energy into their game when Marchand scored a shorthanded goal in the second period to tie things up at 1, but at that point, the wagon wheels fell off. 

Calgary scored with Boston’s best defensive players on the ice three minutes later when Johnny Gaudreau knifed through the middle of the defense before dishing to Sean Monahan for the one-timer from the high slot. Then the Bruins took a roughing call when Matt Grzelcyk stood up for Charlie McAvoy and five seconds later, the puck was in the back of the Boston net to essentially put things out of reach. 

The Bruins allowed 13 shots to Calgary in the second period and never truly regained control of the game.

HONORABLE MENTION: Chris Wagner was one of the best players on the ice for the Bruins and the fourth line was undoubtedly the best one for the B's Tuesday night. Wagner scored a third-period goal while on his belly as he shoveled a puck into the net on a mad scramble in front as the fourth line was grinding away. 

Wagner had a couple of other potential scoring chances in the game that he wasn’t able to capitalize on, but he finished with the one goal in 14:52 of ice time, two shots on net, three shot attempts, a hit, a takeaway and 4-for-8 from the face-off circle in an excellent effort.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of regulation losses at TD Garden for Tuukka Rask after finally losing one to Calgary while letting up four goals on 30 shots.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Some guys came to play, and some guys…didn’t. They didn’t break a sweat, some of them it looked like.” –Bruce Cassidy, clearly not loving the flat effort from the B’s.