Bruins

Kuraly steps up in Bruins' win over Red Wings

Kuraly steps up in Bruins' win over Red Wings

GOLD STAR: Sean Kuraly doesn’t get to play the lead role much for a talented Bruins team, so let him get his share of the credit for a multi-point game on Tuesday night. Kuraly got the B’s on the board in the second period when he was able to step into a pass from Matt Grzelcyk and hammer home a shot from the slot. He finished with a goal and two points in 9:42 of ice time, and scored his first goal since Thanksgiving for a fourth line that’s been very good this season. Best of all Kuraly did one of his animated, enthusiastic celebrations after he scored, though this time it wasn’t quite the same as some of the ones where he was leaping through the air. All in all it was a strong game from Boston’s fourth line center on a night when they needed to grind out the win.

BLACK EYE: It was a rough night for Danny DeKeyser, who finished with a game-worst minus-3 meaning he was on ice for all three of Boston’s goals. DeKeyser and D-man partner Nick Jensen clearly got picked on in that regard, and DeKeyser wasn’t able to do much of anything else to positively impact a game in terms of offense or physicality. At least his defensive partner threw four hits and blocked four shots. Instead DeKeyser just kind of floated through the game with a single shot on net, a couple of shots that got blocked and pretty much nothing else of use for a Red Wings team that’s largely going through the motions at this point. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was the second period for the Bruins where they outshot the Red Wings by an 11-5 margin, and recovered by scoring a pair of goals after giving up a power play strike to Detroit earlier in the second period. The first period was solid too with the B’s outshooting the Wings by a 13-7 margin, but the middle 20 minutes is where they really took over. Sean Kuraly scored the first goal on a nice play where Zdeno Chara pinched in to keep the offensive play alive, and then David Krejci scored the go-ahead goal after hammering a loose puck coming right to him in the slot. It turned out to be Danton Heinen’s insurance goal in the third period that ended up being the game-winner, but it was the middle period where the Bruins really seized control of the game and never relinquished it. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Danton Heinen scored the game-winner and finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-2 rating in 19:51 of ice time. Heinen had four shots on net, five shot attempts and a takeaway while filling in for Brad Marchand for the last time during the B’s winger’s five game suspension, and he once again impressed with his all-around play. It was Heinen that roofed a shot to the top corner after collecting a Sean Kuraly feed in the third period for the actual game-winner, and it was Heinen that also hit a post in the first period on a rush down the left wing. On a night when many of Boston’s big offensive guns were quiet against a trapping Red Wings team, it was Heinen that stepped up as he has on a number of occasions this season. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 11-1-2 – the Bruins record over the 14 games that they’ve played since the beginning of January as the beat just keeps going on for the Black and Gold. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Lately I think our starts have gotten better, but it doesn't matter if we go down a goal. We just keep plugging away and play our game, and it's paid off." –Tuukka Rask, who improved to 19-0-2 with a 1.60 goals against average and a .942 save percentage with his 26-save effort.

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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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