At the most crucial point of the 2016-17 regular season, the Boston Bruins are hardly playing their best hockey. For a third straight year.
When the Bruins’ fourth line is the best trio on the ice, good things aren’t going to happen. The B’s best players have hardly been at their best, either. Including Tuukka Rask.
Lately, the Tuukka detractors have come in droves as the Black and Gold are in the midst of a season-long four-game losing streak. In that span, he was pulled during the embarrassing loss to the Oilers and gave up a couple of soft goals in the third period during their most recent setback to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Even a solid performance from Rask against the Maple Leafs was forgotten after a questionable Dominic Moore interference call led to Tyler Bozak’s game-winner on the ensuing power play. Against the Senators, all three of his goals allowed were either a result of screens in front or tip-ins after the Bruins blue-line failed to clear the puck out of his own zone.
Three starts in four nights is a tall task for any goalie. Yet, the Bruins still needed Rask to be at his best. He clearly wasn’t against the Lightning after allowing five goals on 28 shots.
“Well, he’s played a lot, but I don’t have the answer, to be honest. He needed to be better tonight,” interim coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters about Rask. “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.”
Well, it’s March 24th now, and the Bruins sit only two points ahead of the Islanders for the final wild card spot and three points behind the Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division. By the end of the weekend, they could sit as many as two points in back of the Isles – who are in action tonight against the Penguins – and five points behind Toronto.
Over the last three years, the Bruins have a combined record of 8-15-5 since the ides of March (that’s March 15th for those scoring at home). Fairly or unfairly, Rask has taken the brunt of the criticism during those late regular season collapses.
And it’s not like he hasn’t performed well in big games in the past. Whether it’s getting the Bruins to the playoffs in 2010 with an injured Tim Thomas or singlehandedly holding the Penguins to three goals during the Bruins’ four-game sweep in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, the 2014 Vezina Winner has shown glimpses of being a big-game goalie.
Rask’s answer during this recent stretch of poor play when a reporter asked him about having to carry the team to avoid another late regular season collapse.
“You have to. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” Rask told the press during his postgame media session. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There was a couple of times I should’ve made the save but it happens sometimes.”
This isn’t any ordinary night where Rask let up a few soft goals. This is more than Rask even having to carry the team.
Whether it’s getting the offense back on track in even strength situations, getting the penalty kill back to its shutdown mode like it’s been all season for the most part or having Rask steal a game, the Bruins need to find their game Saturday night in Brooklyn.
Otherwise, fairly or unfairly, Rask will continue to be the brunt of criticism from Bruins fans and hot take experts on sports radio stations across Boston.
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