Reimer dominates Bruins, Backes gets ejected

AP Photo

Reimer dominates Bruins, Backes gets ejected

GOLD STAR: It’s got to be James Reimer and his 46 saves as he kept everything out of his net even as pucks were bouncing and hopping all around him. Give Reimer credit for making the saves when he had to as the Bruins got some pretty good scoring chances that they couldn’t finish off, and didn’t just sit back and give up with a clearly red-hot Florida goaltender. The Bruins bucked up for 20 shots on net in the final period and played a dominant brand of hockey as they always do in the final 20 minutes, but Reimer didn’t buckle while the Panthers played a pretty textbook defensive game in front of him. It might just be that Reimer had the best game of his entire season against the Bruins on Thursday night, and he certainly deserves some credit for that. 

BLACK EYE: A tough night for Nick Holden, who was on the ice for each of the two early goals against the Bruins that really put them in a hole they couldn’t climb out of. Holden was in front of the net trying to hold things down when Kevan Miller lost his stick on the first Florida goal, and then he was beaten to the net by a backdoor-cutting Nick Bjugstad on Florida’s second goal on a quick transition play where nobody slowed down the Panthers. It was better after that, obviously, for Holden as the Panthers only scored one more goal for the rest of the game, and that one came on the power play thanks to a Vincent Trocheck sniper shot. But Holden and the rest of the Bruins ‘D’ will need to tighten things up and get better as they continue to go along without fellow defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara for at least the short term. 

TURNING POINT: For the Bruins it was outshooting the Panthers by a 14-10 margin after the opening 20 minutes of play, and then still finding themselves trailing by a pair of goals. All it took was a couple of defensive breakdowns, a hot Florida goaltender in James Reimer and that was it for a Bruins team that didn’t have another magical comeback in them this time around. There’s only so long the Bruins can withstand both the grueling schedule and the injuries that are again hitting their top line players, and Thursday night’s shutout loss was one of the nights when it caught up to them a little bit. It would help the shorthanded Bruins if they could start playing a little better out of the starting gate in some of these games. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Torey Krug didn’t end up on the score sheet and he didn’t help the Bruins to a win, but give the dude credit for playing very well while playing hurt. Krug led all Bruins with 26:35 of ice time, led all players with eight shots on net, had 14 shot attempts and was all over things in the offensive zone while trying to do whatever he could to get a puck past James Reimer. Krug even took a really big hit in the third period and kept on playing because he knew that the team needed him without Zdeno Chara and without Charlie McAvoy. Krug has always proven to be a very tough competitor both mentally and physically, and Thursday night was another example of that even if it didn’t work out in a win for Boston. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 – It’s only the second time all season that the Bruins have been shut out with the first one happening all the way back in October during the second game of the season in a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the kind of hit I’ve been doing for years. So if this is the new NHL, the new standard, then I hope I can have my old league back.” –David Backes on a match penalty called on him for checking from behind after a hit on Vincent Trocheck in the first period that earned him an ejection from the game.


Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.


Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  


Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.