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.


David Krejci ties Bobby Orr in this playoff stat during Bruins' Game 7 win vs. Leafs

David Krejci ties Bobby Orr in this playoff stat during Bruins' Game 7 win vs. Leafs

Boston Bruins center David Krejci joined some impressive company with an assist in Tuesday night's Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.

The assist was Krejci's 92nd career playoff point, tying him with Bruins legend Bobby Orr for fifth-most in Boston's postseason history.

Krejci has a chance to move past Phil Esposito for second place on this list by the end of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, especially if the Bruins make a deep playoff run.

He also moved into a 10th-place tie on the all-time Game 7 scoring list.

The veteran forward has been an underrated playoff performer throughout his career in Boston. He led the entire playoffs in scoring in 2011 and 2013, and the B's went to the Stanley Cup Final in each of those seasons (winning in 2011). 

Krejci tallied five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games against the Leafs in Round 1. He'll again be a crucial part of Boston's offense when its second-round series versus the Columbus Blue Jackets begins Thursday night at the Garden.

Click here for an early look at Bruins vs. Blue Jackets>>>

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Tuukka Rask shuts up his critics with a big, worthy Game 7 performance

Tuukka Rask shuts up his critics with a big, worthy Game 7 performance

BOSTON – Whether anybody is a fan or a critic of Tuukka Rask’s game, one always had to admit that he had a pretty spotty record in Game 7’s headed into Tuesday night’s showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask had a middling 2-2 record, but the 3.72 goals against average and an .845 save percentage in Game 7’s was dreadful, and included an extremely shaky Game 7 last spring against the Maple Leafs that Boston essentially won in spite of their goaltender. So there wasn’t a wealth of confidence that Game 7 this time around was going to be a puck-stopping showdown with Freddie Andersen, given that the Maple Leafs goalie had an even worse track record than Rask in those winner-take-all matches.

But a funny happened to Rask in a playoff game that featured a lot of outliers from the rest of the playoff series. Rask played arguably his best game of the series while stopping 32 shots and holding the Maple Leafs to one goal in a decisive 5-1 win over Toronto that allowed the Black and Gold to advance to the second round.

“[Rask was] phenomenal, especially in the second period. We had a couple breakdowns there and he did a phenomenal job of helping us out and getting us out of that situation,” said Brandon Carlo. “But, I wouldn’t expect anything different from him. He comes to play every night, especially in the playoffs I’ve seen, you know, he’s excited to play and does a great job.”

Rask was at his optimal best in the second period when the B’s ebbed in energy, and the B’s goaltender stopped 11-of-12 shots during Toronto’s longest extended push of the game. The Bruins No. 1 goalie never faltered while standing tall against the Maple Leafs, and was the single biggest reason the Bruins advanced in the do-or-die contest.

That’s legitimately something that could never have been said about Rask in a Game 7 before, and his coach was certainly appreciative of it afterward.

“I don’t think you win any Game 7 [without your goalie]. Last year we had a 7-4 game where it seemed like it was just all offense, but generally speaking you need your goaltender to hold you in there. I thought Tuukka was outstanding. He had a real good series, so did [Frederik] Andersen. The first goal I’m sure [Andersen] would like to have back. That’s the one that sort of squeaks through. We had one of those against us [in Toronto],” said Cassidy. “I thought Tuukka was great tonight. He really handled himself well, great composure, got out and played the puck when he needed to, froze it when he needed to.

“We limited his workload this year, and you wonder how it’s going to affect the playoffs, and I think tonight hopefully he got some residual effect from that where he was fresh the last couple of games, playing every second night. It pays off and hopefully even more going forward. I think tonight he was our best player tonight. I thought we had a lot of guys play well, but he was our best player.”

The hope obviously is that Rask’s performance silences some of the critics -- this humble hockey writer included -- who have pinned the Finnish netminder as a guy who can’t perform in the biggest games. He’s certainly tried to turn that narrative on its head at times this season like with his strong, winning performance in the Winter Classic, but Tuesday night’s 32-save performance was big-time goaltender kind of stuff.

He vastly outplayed Andersen at the other end of the ice after the Toronto goalie had been slightly better than him for the balance of the series. But it’s tough to argue with the numbers he posted in the seven-game series now that it’s over. Rask finished with a strong .928 save percentage in the seven games and saved his best for last in Game 7 after looking a bit shaky in Boston's Game 6 win when he gave up two goals on 21 shots.

Certainly there were no real breathtaking breakaway saves to speak of for Rask, but speedy scorers like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were buzzing early in the game. And Rask was sending out the vibe to the Leafs that there weren't going to be any easy ones, a big edge for the B's once they jumped to an early 2-0 lead. 

In doing all of that, he spectacularly shut up some of his naysayers for the time being, yours truly included.  

“Hopefully he’s converted a few [of his critics]. I think in sports you have that a lot. I’m a sports fan, other sports, and I have it with certain players with teams I root for. For me, in the time I’ve known him, he’s been a very competitive man, excellent goaltender. We saw it [Tuesday night], and hopefully he can continue to build on his playoff legacy,” said Cassidy. “It’s a big Game 7 win. I believe he was our best player. In the second period, we broke down. He was there for us.

“I think you have to as a fan acknowledge when a player plays well. I know in this town when you don’t, you hear about it. That’s fine too. [In Game 7] he played well, and hopefully the people get behind him and acknowledge that.”

For Rask, it’s less about that thought, and more about simply staying within the comfort zone he’s inhabited to this point in the postseason.

“I personally felt good from the start of the series. I felt pretty good all year, obviously the workload hasn’t been too much so I feel fresh,” said Rask. “It’s all about feeling confident, preparing yourself the right way and trusting your teammates. We battled hard all year and it showed again today.”

Last postseason, Rask’s teammates bailed him out in the third period of Game 7 and allowed the Bruins to advance. This season Rask bailed out his teammates by stepping up in a second period that could have changed the direction of Game 7, and in doing so showed that maybe -- just maybe -- he’s becoming the big moment, postseason goaltender the B’s have always desperately needed him to be. 

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