Bruins

How concerning are Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask's struggles vs. Lightning?

How concerning are Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask's struggles vs. Lightning?

One of the Boston Bruins' advantages over most teams in the NHL is goaltending, but that hasn't been the case against the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

These Atlantic Division rivals wrapped up their four-game season series Saturday night at TD Garden, where the Lightning won 5-3 in a thrilling matchup that featured several fights, including a line brawl late in the second period.

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made his fourth start versus the Bolts this season and didn't play well. He gave up four goals on just 24 shots, including two shorthanded goals on the same power play in the first period. Rask should've done better on Anthony Cirelli's shorthanded goal that opened the scoring.

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Earlier in the week, Rask played great against the Lightning by stopping 20 of 21 shots in a 2-1 victory at Amalie Arena. It's his only quality performance against Tampa Bay this season, though. Rask allowed three or more goals in each of the other three matchups with the Bolts. He went 1-2-1 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .902 save percentage in the four-game season series.

Rask's numbers versus the Lightning over the last few years have not been great. He's 2-9-1 with a 3.09 GAA and a .887 save percentage in his last 12 games against Tampa Bay, including the 2018 second-round playoff series that the Lightning won in five games.

Check out a deeper look inside Rask's performance against the Lightning in the chart below:

So, how concerning are Rask's struggles versus the Lightning? It's definitely an issue.

The Lightning are one of the league's best teams and likely will play the Bruins in the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa Bay has one of the deepest and most skilled groups of forwards in the league, even with superstar center and captain Steven Stamkos out of the lineup due to injury. The Lightning are the highest-scoring team with 3.51 goals per game, and this number could go even higher as trade deadline additions Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman continue to develop chemistry with their new teammates.

The margin for error against a Lightning team with plenty of offensive firepower is slimmer than it would be versus a weaker playoff opponent such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes. This fact heightens the need for Rask to be really sharp against the Lightning, especially early in the game so the Bruins don't fall in a hole that's difficult to climb out of, which is what happened in Saturday's defeat.

Complicating matters is Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been brilliant versus the Bruins this season with a 3-1-0 record, a .928 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA. He's a former Vezina Trophy winner and one of the league's top 10 netminders. Vasilevskiy is not the kind of goalie you want to be facing while trying to mount a comeback. 

Rask has played phenomenally throughout the season and is the favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy. He leads the league with a 2.18 GAA and ranks third with a .926 save percentage. He's the primary reason why the Bruins have allowed a league-low 167 goals.

That said, Rask's performance against Tampa Bay must improve, because if the B's are going to return to the Stanley Cup Final, they'll probably have to go through the Lightning. The Bruins were fortunate to escape the Lightning on last season's run to the Cup Final, but based on how much tougher and deeper the Lightning are in 2019-20, a repeat of that scenario is unlikely.

Haggerty: Rask outplayed by Vasilevskiy in loss to Tampa Bay

2020 NHL Playoffs: Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents

2020 NHL Playoffs: Ranking Bruins' potential first-round opponents

While the Bruins play a round robin against the other three best teams in the East to determine seeding, the Nos. 5-12 teams will be playing to see who makes it to the actual first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The teams and matchups are: 

  • Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
  • Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
  • Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
  • Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)

Given that we don't know whether the Bruins will be the No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, it's possible they could play any of these teams in the first round. 

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Are any of them actually scary for the Bruins? Yes, even though none of them should be favored to actually beat Boston. Here's how I'd rank them, in descending order of difficulty: 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)

3.20 G/G (10th), 2.84 GA/G (12th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0

I'm not crying for the Penguins having to be here. They could have avoided this by not losing eight of their last 11 games.

Anyway, this is a tried-and-true group that added Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau (among others; Connor Sheary was also brought back) at the trade deadline. Pittsburgh was clearly going for it this year, only to be run out of a top spot by the surging Flyers.

The Bruins blowing it in the round robin and getting Pittsburgh in the first round would be a worst-case scenario, even though my money would still be on Boston. 

2. New York Islanders (7)

2.78 G/G (22nd), 2.79 GA/G (9th)

2019 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1

I'm going Islanders ahead of the Hurricanes because I have more faith in them reaching the field of eight based on their play-in matchup.

Scoring has been an issue for the Islanders all season, but after adding JG Pageau at the trade deadline, they're very strong down the middle (Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson), which we've seen has been crucial for teams making playoff runs. 

3. Carolina Hurricanes (6)

3.19 G/G (11th), 2.84 GA/G (11th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-1-0

Yes, this team looked like a bunch of children in the Eastern Conference Final last year because they... weren't good enough to play in the Eastern Conference Final.

But the Hurricanes, who were fourth in the East in goal differential (better than the Penguins and Capitals), have momentum on their side. They were big players at the trade deadline, adding Vincent Trocheck up front and Sami Vatanen and Brady Skei on the back end, plus — and don't laugh here — Dougie Hamilton was pushing for the Norris before he got hurt this season.

He'll be healthy, making the Hurricanes a decent contender as long as they can get past a Rangers team that swept them in the regular season. 

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (8)

3.39 G/G (3rd), 3.17 GA/G (26th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0

Same old story. They can score a bunch and can't defend a lick. Mike Babcock's gone now, which they feel is a good thing, but this isn't the NFL.

You can't just have a great offense and nothing else. Even with the fits they've given the Bruins, I'll always have a hard time taking them seriously. 

5. New York Rangers (11)

3.33 G/G (5th), 3.14 GA/G (23rd)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-2-1

Offensive dynamo (and recent Bruins postseason nemesis) Artemi Panarin racked up 95 points in 69 games in the regular season. Mika Zibanejad was scoring like an absolute mad man (11 goals in six games!) prior to the shutdown.

Factor in that the Rangers opted to re-sign Chris Kreider rather than trade him at the deadline and you've got an offensively formidable group, but boy does that blue line stink.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

2.57 G/G (28th), 2.61 GA/G (3rd)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-0-0

Was it really Bobrovsky that had everyone all horny last year, or was it Torts and that defense? There sure is a case to be made for the latter, because Columbus was third in the league in goals against despite having people whose names I always have to look up (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins) in net.

That second-round matchup was a toughie last year, but that team had Panarin. This one does not and it sucks offensively.

7. Florida Panthers (10)

3.30 G/G (6th), 3.25 GA/G (28th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1

They have star power up front and played the Bruins close in the regular season (two of three meetings went to OT). Yet when they were on the bubble at the trade deadline, they shipped one-time 30-goal scorer Vincent Trocheck (who has either been hurt or underwhelming the last three seasons) to Carolina.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been a nightmare of a signing, posting a .900 save percentage after signing a seven-year deal with a $10 million AAV. He's 31!   

8. Montreal Canadiens (12)

2.93 G/G (19th), 3.10 GA/G (19th)

2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-3-0

The uniform scares you, sure, but nothing else should. They sold at the deadline, lost 10 of their final 14 games and boast one of the most unspectacular rosters you'll ever see in a "playoff" game.

Also, the Bruins' margin of victory in their four matchups was 11 goals. The Habs have no business playing in this, which is why they probably won't be there long.   
 

2020 NHL Playoffs: Cam Neely calls playoff format 'disappointing' from Bruins' perspective

2020 NHL Playoffs: Cam Neely calls playoff format 'disappointing' from Bruins' perspective

Clearly the top-seeded Boston Bruins aren’t getting any favors done for them with the new 24-team playoff format, and B’s President Cam Neely didn’t hide that fact while reacting to the NHL’s return to play scenario.

Boston was the only team that had reached 100 points with roughly a month to go when the regular season was put on pause, and the B's were a shoo-in to be the No. 1 seed in all of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Presidents' Trophy winners.

Now they could drop all the way to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference bracket while taking part in a round-robin warm-up tournament with Washington, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia which will determine final seeding.

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The decision to wipe away everything Boston had accomplished in the first six months of the regular season was not lost on the B’s president. Some might say the Bruins were screwed by the new format, but that's probably putting too strong of a point on it. 

Still, the format does very little to uphold Boston's dominance during the 2019-20 regular season.  

“Like everybody, I’m excited to get the next phase now that the players and owners have agreed on a format on the return to play. Hopefully we’ll be able to get our facility open in a voluntary basis for the players to use,” said Neely, during a Wednesday Zoom call with Bruins reporters. “With what the team was able to accomplish in the first 70 games and then the point spread we had — not only with the teams in the league, but also with the teams in our division and conference — to kind of have three games dictate where we fall in the conference standings is somewhat disappointing.

But the fact remains that these are uncharted times for everybody and we’re just hoping that we can get on the ice to play meaningful hockey games. I expressed my feelings about where it was headed, but for the good of the game this is what they thought was best.

"I felt that the players would be amped up and ready to go whether there was round-robin games or play-in games during the playoffs while knowing other teams were playing competitive games. I understood why they landed on 24 [teams]. I just would have liked it without the round-robin for the top four seeds.”

The Bruins still have a great chance at the top seed in the East given that they will have head-to-head games against the Caps, Lightning and Flyers to get ready, and they hold the tie-breaker based on regular-season point percentage. And home-ice advantage really doesn't even count for much if the games are going to be played in empty arenas at designated NHL hub cities over the summer. 

But they will have to go out and earn it again in the new format just as they did over the course of the first six months of the NHL regular season.