It’s late in the regular season and the Bruins are inching closer toward securing home ice for their likely first-round matchup with the Maple Leafs. They know they’ll need sharp outings from Tuukka Rask and a well-balanced lineup against an offensively talented Leafs bunch.
Toronto’s defensive issues give Bruce Cassidy’s squad a leg up when these two teams renew acquaintances. Yet, the Bruins know that the Leafs can score in bunches. If Rask’s last two starts are anything to go by, the B’s may very well be suiting up for a track meet.
Granted, the Bruins D let him down in Tampa when their sloppy third-period mistakes came back to haunt them. Of course, the Bruins would’ve loved a marquee stop from their 2014 Vezina winner against the likes of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the high-octane Bolts. But it wasn’t meant to be.
But the lack of a timely save Monday night led to some rather interesting comments from Cassidy postgame.
“Pretty average,” Cassidy said about Rask’s effort against the Presidents’ Trophy winning-Lightning. “He got beat by good shots, but at some point, you need a save.”
Fast forward to his next start five days later. The Bruins welcomed a Florida Panthers squad set to reserve tee times at a nearby Ft. Lauderdale golf course next week. A perfect time for Rask to bounce back against Roberto Luongo — perhaps making his last ever appearance at TD Garden — and company.
But Luongo, a few days shy of his 40th birthday, went back in time channeling his days with the Canucks making timely saves against a solid, yet unspectacular, Bruins’ attack on Saturday. Rask, meanwhile, allowed a juicy rebound leading to Evgeni Dadonov’s first of the afternoon and a backbreaker on Troy Brouwer’s second period shorthanded tally on a 20-foot wrist shot. The latter came moments after Noel Acciari cut the lead to 2-1 on a beautiful feed from Torey Krug.
“That’s a shot you’d like to save,” Rask said, “especially with a 2-1 game and on a power play. But I didn’t.”
Instead, the Bruins trailed by two as Luongo kept pumping Rask’s tires.
Cassidy, however, opted not to do any tire pumping — unlike Monday in Tampa. He went for a different perspective during his postgame press conference.
“I don’t want to go too far back. We addressed it in Tampa. We gave up some high-end chances [and] we needed one more save. Were they bad goals? Absolutely not. They were all good goals,” Cassidy said.
“Tonight, we didn’t generate enough anyways, so it may not have mattered. But again, the third goal we needed a save on to stay in the game. We battled back from 2-0 [and made it] 2-1. You could tell we didn’t have our A-game. Our execution was off, so I don’t want to stick around your question. Yeah, we needed one more save. But this was a team loss — a total team loss — today in my estimation.”
Cassidy had a rather short press conference — clocking in at 3:29 — before leaving for his office and packing up his belongings for the quick turnaround before Bruins’ last road trip of the season. Yet, he gave as in-depth of an answer as possible regarding Rask.
Rask, in turn, gave a shorter answer regarding his hiccup over the past two games. And that too is understandable given the quick turnaround — and a meet and greet with the inspirational Pete Frates and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott inside the locker room — before the 5 p.m. takeoff at Hanscom Air Force Base.
“Past few games? I’ve felt good,” Rask said. “Past few months it’s been good.”
He has a reason to feel good following his stretch of play after taking a personal leave from the team back in November. But Rask has hit a roadblock of late. His last four periods of hockey resulted in six goals allowed on 31 shots for a .806 save percentage.
Rask, no stranger to late-season slumps, isn’t looking like his 2014 Vezina self like he was from mid-November-mid March. He’s looking more like Blaine Lacher after he won the 7th Player Award in his rookie year during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign. You can thank Walpole’s own Chris Wagner — this year’s 7th Player Award winner — for dropping that Blaine Lacher reference.
The Bruins don’t need Rask to look like Lacher. They need him to be more like Rask come playoff time, especially with Jaroslav Halak lurking behind him. You can bet that Cassidy won’t be shy pulling that trigger if need be.
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