With the Boston Bruins’ 6–2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4–1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Bruins officially clinched home-ice advantage for their upcoming series against the Maple Leafs in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, it seemed like things were getting a bit choppy for the Bruins as they had the opportunity to clinch home ice over the weekend against two non-playoff teams but instead got shelled in both games. It is easy to blame the defense, who seem to just be getting healthy, but when will a Bruins goaltender finally steal a game?
People have been saying forever that a goalie is only as good as the defense in front of them. But just look at the Maple Leafs; they have one of the worst defenses in the entire league and yet they still have the fifth-best record in the entire league, primarily because of their goalie. Frederic Andersen is essentially carrying them as he gives them a chance to win every night.
Meanwhile in Boston, the Bruins have one of the best defenses in the league and force teams to take shots that do not always challenge the goaltender. Tuukka Rask is a good goaltender who makes the saves he is supposed to make most of the time, but when the defense in front of him has a bad night, it is very rare to see him steal a win for his team.
A prime example of this was when the Bruins lost to the Florida Panthers 4–1 last Saturday. The Panthers are a team that is well out of the playoffs and have nothing to play for. Therefore, the Bruins thought they could win despite not bringing their A game.
Obviously, this was not the case, considering the Panthers jumped out to an early 2–0 lead. However, in the second period, the Bruins were able to come up with a greasy goal from Noel Acciari, and at that point it seemed that all the momentum shifted to the Bruins' favor. Then shortly after the Bruins scored, Rask let in a gut-wrenchingly soft short-handed goal from the Panthers’ Troy Brouwer to put the game to bed.
With the playoffs coming up this week, the Bruins will have to make a big decision when it comes down to who will be starting in net. Unlike most teams, the Bruins have a good backup in Jaroslav Halak who has been a starter in the playoffs. At the end of the past few seasons, Rask has typically faded and struggled. This year, his overall workload has been managed as he has only played in 45 games so far. Therefore, one would have thought he should be fresh enough to play at a high level to end this season, but here we are and it still looks like Rask is struggling.
So, is the problem with Rask that he struggles in big games that have more meaning? I guess we will have a larger sample of that once the playoffs start; but if Rask does struggle, do not be surprised to see Halak get a start or two. Even though Halak has not played in the playoffs since 2015, he may end up being the better option considering the fact that he has not had a playoff save percentage under .923 since 2008. Meanwhile, in last year’s playoffs, Rask’s save percentage was a rough .903 in 12 games played.