At this rate, Tuukka Rask is becoming one of the more polarizing members of the Bruins.
Some of the criticism directed at Rask is performance based. On one side, the Rask detractors will nitpick at everything from not coming through in the clutch to having to miss a start due to injury or illness. In this 24/7 news cycle, those doubters will jump at Rask on sports radio or social media the very first chance after Rask makes the slightest of mistakes.
Lose a 1-0 game? That’s on Rask. Win a 6-5 game? Well, they’ll say he’s not good enough to stand on his head and that the offense has to back him up.
On the other side, there are those who defend the Finnish netminder. They may not exonerate him to the fullest degree, but at the same time they’ll also point out the team’s flaws as a whole, especially on the back-end. As for Rask being injured or ill? Well, depends on the timing I suppose.
In any event, the latest storm involving Rask’s performance came Thursday night after allowing five goals on 28 shots in the B’s 6-3 loss to the Lightning. Two nights later, he missed Saturday’s game in Brooklyn due to a lower-body injury. In his place, Anton Khudobin made 18 saves to backstop the Black and Gold to a much-needed 2-1 win over the Islanders.
Which begs the question: during his downtime, did Rask pay attention to the loud and vocal noise from the outside?
“I haven’t [heard the noise] but I’m sure they’re very nice to me,” Rask said with a laugh prior to making his 60th start of the 2016-17 season. “No, really. I don’t listen [to sports talk radio] or I don’t read [social media]. It doesn’t effect me. You know where you stand and you know when you play good and you don’t play good. You just can’t listen to the outside voices, because that is just going to distract you.”
The one voice he did hear loud and clear was from the Bruins interim coach following Thursday’s loss to the Lightning.
“Well, he’s played a lot, but I don’t have the answer, to be honest. He needed to be better tonight,” Bruce Cassidy said following Last Thursday’s loss. “We needed to be better in front of him, and he needed to be better on some of those goals. It’s March 23, so really, our focus needs to be there. You’d hope it’s more fatigue than focus, at this point in the year, but I can only speculate.”
Cassidy was right – in a constructive way.
Rask returned to the net Tuesday night, but not before more speculation after Zane McIntyre – again – was recalled on an emergency basis. Once confirmed as the starter when he led his team out for warmups, Rask had a chance to quiet his critics for at least one night in another must-win game against the Predators. The same Preds squad that helped the Bruins keep their wild card spot intact after defeating the Isles in the first game of their back-to-back.
Indeed, Rask had that bounce back performance. He was helped by a 2-0 first period lead thanks to goals by David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. He was also helped with the defense getting in the shooting lane for the most part.
Rask didn’t need to be spectacular, just solid. And solid he was.
“Well I feel like I had a good game, I mean, yeah, but we blocked a lot of shots. There were not too many bad bounces against us, so that helps,” Rask said after his 24-save performance.
“They didn’t have a lot there and then they kind of slowly crept back in the game but we pushed back and got the goals we needed.”
His only goal allowed came off a deflection from Craig Smith early in the final stanza. For the most part, Rask made the timely saves when he needed to, including the third period when the Preds were looking for the equalizer.
Eventually, the Bruins pulled away after Noel Acciari’s first NHL goal and David Backes’ empty-netter at 15:47 and 18:29 of the final stanza, respectively.
“He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic and they created some good opportunities,” Cassidy said about Rask. “Even the goal against, he found it and they just tipped it at eye level, so it was going to be a tough one. But I thought he was terrific, and I was very pleased with his performance.”
For one (more) night, Rask got to quiet his detractors.