Tuukka Rask key to Bruins playoff push
With the Bruins out of a playoff spot and in Brooklyn last Saturday for a huge contest with the New York Islanders, not having the services of goalie Tuukka Rask could have been a massive issue for the Boston Bruins. Instead, the Black and Gold got just enough out of Anton Khudobin to squeak out a win and then the keyboard warriors went on attack mode.
Using Rask’s sitting out of last year’s must-win season finale against the Ottawa Senators as additional ammunition, words like soft and heartless could often be found in the same sentence as the Rask name throughout Twitter. Fans on Twitter and other various social media platforms were not the only ones throwing heat Rask’s way as some in the media questioned the severity of the issue that caused the 2014 Vezina winner to remain back in Boston for Saturday’s important game, all while being labeled day-to-day by Bruins’ interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.
Two nights later, Rask was back in net for the Bruins, but not before another emergency recall of Zane McIntyre from Providence. With the reason behind the recall unknown, those Twitter trolls were at it again. Turns out it was actually Khudobin who was iffy for the game, but managed to dress as Rask’s backup.
“I haven’t [heard the noise] but I’m sure they’re very nice to me,” a smiling Rask said prior to Tuesday’s contest against the Nashville Predators. “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.”
After an impressive 24 save performance in a 4-1 victory over the Predators at TD Garden, Rask was back between the Bruins pipes again Thursday night, this time against the Dallas Stars. Despite facing a Stars team that struggles putting the puck in the net, Rask was once again very impressive making 27 saves in a 2-0 shutout.
On this night, the Bruins interim bench boss thinks his goalie was the team’s best player.
“I thought he earned his keep tonight, he was our best player,” said Cassidy. “When we broke down, he was there. They were off net on a few chances and I think from my vantage point his angles were so solid that there wasn’t much net to shoot at.”
Of the 27 shots Rask saw, none were overly challenging, but that was due to many factors. From Rask’s positioning to the Bruins ability to clear pucks out of their own end and limiting Dallas’ second chances, Rask was very sound for three periods en route to his seventh shutout of the season.
“It was, they had a lot of chances, but I saw them, so that makes it easier. Positionally I try and be in the right spot and as I said we blocked shots and took care of the rebounds that were there, cleared them, and that’s a big difference,” said Rask.
“I saw the puck, they didn’t get second opportunities that much, so that was good. So, no backdoor plays, no tips, that was the difference for sure.”
The Bruins are going to get goals from Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Patrice Bergeron is going to play his usual dependable two-way hockey. The top power play unit will continue to find ways to score and the penalty kill will continue to remain valuable. But at the end of the day, the 2016-17 Bruins are only going to go as far as Rask takes them.
As the season heads towards its final days and the Bruins holding down one of the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots, one thing is clear: Rask is the key to a postseason return.
Two games are not a great sample size, but if these last two performances by Rask are any indication of where his play is heading, playoff hockey will return to TD Garden for the first time in three years.
Asked what has changed with his play the last two games, Rask’s answer was simple.
With one back-to-back set remaining Saturday and Sunday, followed by games every other day until season’s end, Rask should unquestionably get the majority of the workload, if not all of it.
Cassidy wouldn’t tip his hand in regards to his weekend goalie plan.
“No, we will see how everybody is tomorrow. Well, obviously, Anton is fine. We’ll see how Tuuk is,” Cassidy added. “Obviously, he missed a little time, so let’s make sure everybody is up to speed there tomorrow and we will go one game at a time.”
With five games remaining and a three-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the final wild card spot, the Bruins very much do control their own destiny and very much do control that destiny with Rask steering the ship.
“It was something we needed to do and need to continue to do,” Rask added about their string of three straight wins. “All the teams behind us are breathing down our necks for sure so we have to keep plugging away and keep on winning, that’s the only thing we can control. Obviously, after a four-game losing streak, we needed to change and so far so good.”