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.
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.