Bruins

Is it time to start getting worried about Tuukka Rask again?

Is it time to start getting worried about Tuukka Rask again?

BOSTON – Is it time to start getting worried about Tuukka Rask?

The Bruins goaltender had a rough first period Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins where he allowed three goals on seven shots on net in the opening 20 minutes, and hasn’t been all that outstanding lately for the Black and Gold. In his last six games Rask is sporting a below average .888 save percentage, and has allowed three or more goals in four of the six games played while falling far away from a hot streak in the middle of the season.

To his credit, Rask pulled himself together after a couple of soft goals allowed in the first period against the Penguins and finished with 24 saves while allowing just one more for the rest of the game against Pittsburgh. It was an instance where Rask probably could have been yanked if he’d allowed any more goals in the second period, but instead he was able to hang in there while Pittsburgh made a first period goaltending change with their backups.

Bruce Cassidy said following the game that he didn’t consider pulling Rask after allowing three in the first period, but it certainly could have been a reality if it continued in the final 40 minutes.

“No. Zero. Tuukka has to play through some of these games. If he was fatigued in terms of his workload of late, we would look at that. But it’s just, right now, he had a stretch there where everything was like a beach ball to him, I think. Now, there are some goofy ones from odd angles,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The last goal, I don’t think any goalie is stopping that, it’s ping-ponging around. So, he’s just going to have to fight his way through it a little bit here and find his game.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to score four the other night and eight tonight, and that’s just part of it for him, too. If there was an injury or something there, we would talk to him and give him some rest, but it’s just a part of the year where he’ll have to find his focus, find his game, work with Goalie Bob

[Essensa], and hopefully he comes out of it. The good news is we’re winning.”

To be fair to Rask, it was probably two of the first three goals allowed in the first period that weren’t ideal for the Bruins No. 1 goalie. One would hope that Rask might have been able to stop Pittsburgh’s third goal scored by Riley Sheahan with just 3.2 seconds in the first period, and certainly he should have stopped Phil Kessel’s bad angle goal that beat him short side midway through the first period. Rask joked about it after the game because it had ended up well for the Bruins, but there’s no question he was fighting the puck in the first period.

“The first period I thought we were playing with white pucks there. The only time I saw the puck was when I dug it out of the net. Had some red bull in the intermission there and I actually made a couple saves after that,” said Rask. “The first one, I reacted like it was going high and it was kind of a wobbly puck. The second one [was a] bad angle shot and the third one, I mean I could have had a couple of those.

“But at least, you know, I battled back, and made a couple saves. We played a heck of a game. Everybody was going. It was fun to watch. Too bad I was playing goal, I wish I was in the stands having a beer.”

Clearly it’s a good thing that didn’t happen as Rask stopped 18-of-19 shots in the final two periods after getting his game together, and he really settled into things along with the rest of the team in front of him. Perhaps that will push the Bruins No. 1 back into a good stretch between the pipes, and his recent inconsistencies can be a thing of the past.

Right now Rask is tied for 17th in the NHL with the .919 save percentage and third in the NHL with a 2.23 goals against average, a pair of decent numbers that have fallen back to Earth a bit from where they were six weeks ago during his long, personal winning streak.

But another poor performance from Rask as of late will continue the nagging questions that the Bruins top goalie can’t consistently play well when the pressure is on, and serve as a reminder that the No. 1 goalie still has plenty to prove when it comes to big time performances in the kind of big games that the B’s will have in their near future.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins' 2020 Stanley Cup odds, projected point total rank among NHL elite

Bruins' 2020 Stanley Cup odds, projected point total rank among NHL elite

Winning back-to-back championships is one of the most difficult feats in sports.

But perhaps just as hard is making it back to the championship after losing the season before.

That's the task ahead of the Boston Bruins, who look to rebound in 2019-20 after a heartbreaking loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Bruins have had a quiet offseason to date, losing Marcus Johansson to free agency but mostly keeping their squad from 2018-19 intact. That team finished second in the NHL with 107 points, and SuperBook USA in Vegas projects the B's to be another regular-season powerhouse this season.

Boston is tied with the Colorado Avalanche for the fourth-highest projected point total with 100.5, trailing only the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights.

The Bruins' odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup reflect those point totals, although the B's are listed below the Avs at 14/1.

Interestingly, the Bruins and Blues both have seen their odds decrease slightly from last month, when Boston was pegged at 10/1 and St. Louis was listed at 14/1.

The most notable free-agent names are off the board, so barring a trade, this is the core Bruins roster you'll probably see come October. And Vegas expects the B's, Lightning and Leafs to once again be the power players in the Eastern Conference, which should make for a very competive Atlantic Division.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

The Edmonton Oilers were finally able to move a difficult contract this weekend when they shipped Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in a rare trade between Battle of Alberta rivals.

Calgary also received a conditional third-round pick in 2020 along with the Oilers retaining 12.5 percent of the remainder of Lucic’s contract, which will see him at a $5.25 million cap hit with the Flames for the next four seasons. The Oilers are rid of the Lucic contract, but they’re still on the hook for four years of Neal, 31, at $5.75 million after he, too, showed serious signs of decline last season with the Flames.

These are the kinds of “no real winner” trades that the Bruins would have to engage in if they wanted to move 35-year-old David Backes in the final years of his contract. Sure, the Backes contract has never been good value and it became something else last season when the power forward’s production dropped to just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games amid concussion issues on top of decreased production.

Lucic, 31, had similar numbers last season with six goals and 20 points in 79 games with the Oilers, and it’s been clear for a couple of seasons that his best days are behind him as one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The argument could be made, though, that those heavy skating legs might have been energized a bit by a return to Boston and certainly his fighting, snarling game is a little more in line with what the B’s need to protect some of their younger players these days.

Could the Bruins have engineered a similar trade involving Backes with the Oilers to get Lucic back at $5.25 million with Edmonton retaining some salary thus saving the B's almost $1 million cap space the next couple of seasons?

Absolutely.

The question becomes whether it would have been worth it to take on a couple more years of Lucic when Backes is going to be finishing up his deal two seasons from now and becomes a prime buyout candidate at this time next year.

This is why it’s become almost impossible to move Backes. It’s going to be very difficult to find a deal for another problem contract where the B’s aren’t inheriting more years indebted to the player coming back in a trade. Or it’s going to take a first-round pick sweetener for another team to accept the Backes contract along with Boston potentially picking up some of the money.

One of the few remaining players out there the Bruins could potentially swap bad contracts for is old friend Loui Eriksson with the Vancouver. It was Backes who the B’s signed when Eriksson walked in free agency, and the 34-year-old Swedish winger hasn’t come close to repeating his final Boston season while with the Canucks.

Eriksson had 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games for Vancouver last season and has been pretty consistent while averaging 10 goals and 25 points in his three underperforming seasons with the Canucks. Again, though, the Bruins would be taking on one additional season at the $6 million cap hit in 2021-22 if they were to do an even swap of Backes-for-Eriksson if both teams signed off on the one-for-one trade.

Even that doesn’t make sound business sense for the Black and Gold if they can just squeeze one more season of productivity out of Backes as a bottom-six winger willing to stand up for his teammates and show leadership.

What does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins aren’t going to find many, if any, realistic trade scenarios with Backes that are going to help their bottom line on the salary cap. They may just need to make the best out of one more season with No. 42 and then revisit things again next summer when there could be a few more options at their disposal.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.