WASHINGTON -- Most No. 1 goaltenders thrive in the big moments, doing their best work on the big stage and under the bright lights.
Tuukka Rask, though, is not like most No. 1 goaltenders and he proved it again on Wednesday night, getting pulled from the Bruins’ embarrassing season-opening 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Capital One Arena.
Rask allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced in the first period as the staggering Bruins fell into a 2-0 hole just 1:47 into the game. He wound up letting in five goals on 19 shots before he was mercifully pulled from the game in the middle of the second period. The coup de grace was an Evgeny Kuznetsov short-side bid that managed to squirt through when Rask wasn’t hugging the short side post tightly enough.
Add that to the first-period Kuznetsov score where he popped in a doorstep chance after both Rask and Zdeno Chara fumbled away a Patrice Bergeron defensive zone face off win, and one had all the ingredients for a classic Rask meltdown in a statement game.
To his credit, Rask took accountability for his own performance and wasn’t looking to sidestep any of the blame for the opening night debacle.
“[The game] was what it was, but I’m looking at myself," he said. "I’m out there to give us a chance and I didn’t do that today. Three soft goals. I just need to go back out there and go fix it. That’s the plan.
“I felt fine. A couple of quick goals and you tell yourself that you’re going to keep battling. The positive was that I made a few good saves in the first period, but the second period came and it was quickly done for me.
“It was one of those games where you can’t find it and you can’t make those saves. That last goal I gave up was a great example of that.”
Clearly the entire team wasn’t ready either, and that will be factored into the blame pie for an embarrassing 60 minute “effort” that can't make anyone excited about the upcoming season. Bruce Cassidy talked about a “lack of competitive spirit” in the game, which should set off warning signals about what might lie directly ahead for a Bruins team that had an odd training camp with a trip to China in the middle of it all.
The Bruins coach also seemed to take it easy on the goalie, perhaps knowing that a Rask stumble out of the gates, combined with Jaroslav Halak’s presence, could create a goalie controversy long before the B’s had anticipated. Halak gave up a couple of goals after relieving Rask, but he also showed a battling nature and competitiveness around the cage that saved a number of other shots that could have made it a 10-goal game for the defending champ Caps. Basically, Halak looked ready to play once he was in the game in the second period and Rask didn’t have enough of that to start when the Bruins really needed him to stand tall.
Still, Cassidy wasn’t throwing Rask under the bus after Game No. 1 and that’s probably understandable given what the Bruins will need out of him this season . . . and given that the entire Bruins roster stunk out loud in a nationally televised game.
“I don’t know if it would have mattered tonight . . . I really don’t,” said Cassidy, when asked about the sharpness to Rask’s game. “There are some nights when the goalie doesn’t have it, and the players will just say, ‘Well, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow.’ But I don’t see that being the case tonight. He made some saves in the first period.
“The second goal [allowed] was a funny one and then obviously in the second period it got away from him. But I’m not putting this on Tuukka. I think our core group in general needed to be a lot better. Neither the leading nor the following happened tonight.”
It was expected that Rask was going to respond strongly and sharply to the challenge of a legit No. 1 goalie in Halak as his backup this season, and that still might happen. But his performance on a big night against the Capitals is why so many people don’t have a lot of trust in the Bruins goaltender in big moments, and that isn’t likely to change moving forward . . . for either Rask or the Bruins.