The Boston Bruins face a must-win Game 6 in their second-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, and if he's healthy enough to play, head coach Bruce Cassidy should stick with Tuukka Rask as the starting goalie.
"There was some maintenance that needed to be done. He wasn't 100 percent, so we made a decision," Cassidy said when asked about taking Rask out of the game. "That's a call we had to make between periods. I'll just say he wasn't himself (or) 100 percent. Certainly could've went back in, but we made a decision not to put him back in."
Cassidy said he assumes Rask will be ready to go for Game 6. It's clear that Rask has been less than 100 percent in the playoffs, and that's not much of a surprise given how much time he missed during the regular season due to injury. The veteran netminder played in just 24 of 56 regular season games.
If Rask is able to go in Game 6, he's still the no-brainer choice for Cassidy.
For starters, Rask has played very well in the 2021 playoffs overall with a .926 save percentage and a 2.20 GAA through 10 games. Rask posted a .926 save percentage against the Islanders through the first four games of Round 2. Of course, he didn't play amazing in Game 5, but he wasn't horrible on any of the four goals he gave up. When you look at his stats in the postseason so far, it's clear that whatever is bothering Rask isn't preventing him from playing at a high level more often than not.
Another reason to play Rask is his success at Nassau Coliseum. He's 8-2-0 with a .953 save percentage and a 1.51 GAA in 10 career regular season road games versus the Islanders. He also was fantastic in Games 3 and 4 on Long Island earlier this series with a .951 save percentage, a 1.47 GAA and 2.87 goals saved above expected, per Natural Stat Trick.
A third reason to stick with Rask is his previous success on the road in win or go home situations. His stats are better than you might think:
Jeremy Swayman's inexperience also should be a factor here. The rookie goalie was awesome during the regular season and has made the Bruins' future in net look pretty bright. But his 20 minutes in relief of Rask during Game 5 was the first playoff action of his career.
A young goalie making his first career playoff start on the road in a must-win game in front of a raucous crowd is far from an ideal situation, regardless of how well Swayman has played in 2021.
The Bruins have continued to play Rask in the playoffs despite the fact he's not 100 percent. Swayman has been ready to go and still didn't get any action until Monday night. Therefore, it would be pretty surprising if Cassidy all of a sudden changed course with the season on the line and played the rookie even if Rask was healthy enough to play.
Rask is the Bruins' best goalie. He has, with the exception of Game 5 against the Islanders, played quite well in this playoff run. He deserves the chance to extend it if his health permits Wednesday night.