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.

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Bruins go home empty-handed on NHL Awards night

Bruins go home empty-handed on NHL Awards night

The Bruins didn’t take home any hardware at the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, but appropriately one of their youthful players was recognized among the league’s best and brightest. Rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie team along with New Jersey Devils D-man Will Butcher, forwards (Islanders) Mat Barzal, (Canucks) Brock Boeser and (Coyotes) Clayton Keller and Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros.

The 20-year-old McAvoy finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting as well behind Barzal, Boeser, Keller and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor, but the rookie D-man didn’t get any first-place votes on ballots across the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association). 

Patrice Bergeron finished third in the Selke Trophy voting behind Selke winner Anze Kopitar and Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier while going for his record-breaking fifth Selke Trophy. While it might be a little shocking to see No. 37 finish third based on his season and his overall two-way prowess, he did miss 22 percent of the regular season (18 out of 82 games) and some voters may have dinged him a bit because of that. 

Likewise, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy finished a distant second in the Jack Adams Award voting behind Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. In any other season, Cassidy’s job leading the Bruins to 112 points in his first full year behind the Boston bench would have been a shoo-in for the coaching award. Instead, it deservedly went to Gallant after guiding the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to a playoff spot and eventually all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Don Sweeney also finished fourth in the GM of the Year voting just behind the three finalists for the award, a clear recognition from those around the league for the job he’s done turning things around in Boston over the last few seasons. Zdeno Chara (Norris), David Pastrnak (a first place Lady Byng vote, no less), Bergeron (Byng and Hart Trophy), Tuukka Rask (Vezina), Jake DeBrusk (Calder) and Brad Marchand (Selke and Hart Trophy) all received at least single votes on award ballots in a pretty strong Black and Gold representation across the board. 

A positive thought for all the Bergeron backers that felt he got robbed this season: It was the NHL-record seventh consecutive Selke Trophy finalist appearance for Bergeron on Wednesday night, and there certainly should be several more chances for No. 37 to win again and add to a resume that looks more and more Hall of Fame-worthy with each passing season.

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Cassidy says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

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File photo

Cassidy says Kovalchuk would be 'nice addition' to Bruins

As the free agency period of July 1 inches closer, the hype machine for 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk will grow more and more frenzied for teams like the Bruins.

And coach Bruce Cassidy gladly added to it on Tuesday in Las Vegas, telling reporters assembled for the NHL Awards that the Russian winger would be “a nice fit” for the Black and Gold. 

“Yeah, that would be interesting . . . you never want to speculate,” Cassidy said to reporters in Vegas during his press availability as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. “You can’t get too far ahead . . . he’s a top-six guy, he can play left and right wing, he’s a big body. He’d be a nice addition. I am sure any team would say that right now. 

“He’s going to make your team better, and I think that’s what you always look at as a coach, and fitting [talented players] in is the easy part. The tough part is getting those types of players.”

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The Bruins will be among a handful of teams vying for Kovalchuk, who spend the last five seasons playing in the KHL after bolting the New Jersey Devils and the NHL after the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season. Even at his advanced NHL age, the expectation is that Kovalchuk can still have an impact offensively even if he’s not exactly the same player who posted 37 goals and 83 points in his last full season in Jersey six years ago. 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger still has the big shot, the scoring ability, the size and the game-breaking skills that made him a former first overall pick in the NHL draft, and it may just be that he has more left in his tank than the younger Rick Nash. Clearly there was a concussion that played a big part in Nash’s time in Boston, but he also didn’t look like the explosive scoring ability was still there like it was in the Columbus/New York power forward’s younger years. 

The Bruins haven’t yet locked in a time when they’ll make their pitch to Kovalchuk’s camp, but it’s expected to happen ahead of the July 1 opening of free agency. Kovalchuk's representatives have already had meetings with teams on the West Coast like the Kings and Sharks. It’s expected that Kovalchuk, 35, be looking at a shorter-term deal making something close to the $6.67 annual salary he was being paid by the Devils when he departed the NHL. 

If Kovalchuk were to land in Boston, he’d fill a need for secondary scoring behind the big guns of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.He would allow the Bruins to keep their top forward line intact while filling a hole on the second line right wing alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. 

With the news that next season’s salary cap is going to be in the $79-80 million range, the Bruins will also have somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million in cap space for their offseason shopping list. That should give them plenty of room to sign Kovalchuk to a short-term deal and still address the other openings on their NHL roster, including third-line center and a backup goaltender. Still, Kovalchuk would be the big fish, and that’s why the talk about him is front and center.

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