Why D&K are wrong about Tuukka Rask having a longer leash

Matt Kalman
April 08, 2019 - 5:34 pm

In his annual pre-playoffs press conference Monday, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was asked about the execution of the plan to get Tuukka Rask more rest this season after the signing of Jaroslav Halak to a two-year contract at $2.75 million per season.

Rask played 46 games, his fewest in a full season since 2011-12, and Halak played 40. They combined to help the Bruins finish third in the league in goals allowed per game (2.59).

Rask is fresher this year than in past seasons that he’s been the Bruins No. 1 heading into the postseason, and he’s going to start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round series against Toronto on Thursday. But Sweeney made sure to point out that both Bruins goaltenders are ready to contribute if necessary in this series.

“Butch [coach Bruce Cassidy] has been consistent to play a hot goaltender at particular times, in certain games and not worry about feelings because both goaltenders are capable,” Sweeney said. “They both have résumés that would allow them to take the ball, and they both did at critical times during the course of the year. Obviously, moving forward, we feel very good that both goaltenders are healthy and in a good position. Hopefully, Rask feels really refreshed and ready to go because he starts Thursday night, and it’s a long run.”

The Bruins hope it’ll be a long run. If you think Cassidy is going to let that run go too far off track if he gets a whiff of Rask floundering the way he did in the first round against Toronto last season (.899 save percentage in the Bruins’ seven-game victory), then you don’t truly understand what the Bruins created this year when they decided to invest heavily in a 1A goaltender.

On Monday, the Dale & Keefe show took issue with the co-hosts of Sunday Skate predicting that Cassidy would have a quick hook with Rask.

“See, I would be surprised,” D&K co-host Rich Keefe said about the idea that Rask could get pulled quickly after a bad goal or a bad start.

“I’d be shocked,” Dale Arnold said.

“Now if Toronto goes out and scores five goals in the first period in Game 1, yeah you’re probably going to make a goaltender change for that game,” Arnold continued. “But the idea that just because Jaroslav Halak’s been good this year, really good, very good backup goaltender, that you’re going to have a shorter leash on your starter, to me is not correct because here’s what happens. You have that short leash and you yank it … how do you go back to him? So at that point are you then deciding, ‘you know what, Jaroslav Halak is our goaltender for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs’?”

Last season, with the Bruins trailing 4-1 in the second period of Game 5 against the Maple Leafs, Cassidy pulled Rask for Anton Khudobin. The highly caffeinated backup goaltender held down the fort and the Bruins closed to within 4-3 before the final horn.

So there’s every reason to believe that if the Bruins get behind in any of these upcoming games, and Rask is a major reason for the deficit, Cassidy will turn to Halak. It may be less likely that Halak would then start the next game, but the Bruins brought in Halak rather than Khudobin or some other journeyman backup because Halak has No. 1 experience. They knew that even at 33 he was a better goaltender than he showed playing behind the New York Islander’s Keystone Cops defense.

And the notion that you can’t bring Rask back after a quick pull or after giving Halak a start ignores the fact that Rask is as psychologically fit as they come among goaltenders, and he more than most netminders is a team player. He would understand the situation and keep himself sharp knowing that the deeper the Bruins go in the playoffs, the greater the likelihood he’d be called upon to play again. We’ve seen Rask sit for both Halak and Khudobin in the regular season the past two seasons, and it has only made him fresher and better.

Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury both appeared in double-digit games during the Penguins’ run in 2017. The Chicago Blackhawks gave Scott Darling (yes, Scott Darling!) four starts while Corey Crawford was benched during the 2015 Cup run. Recent championship teams have adapted to the demands the game puts on goalies by utilizing both their puck-stoppers when one falters and when they believe they have a second goaltender that can play at a high level.

Tim Thomas started in all 25 games in 2011, sure, but that was eight years ago. It’s a much different league. Plus Rask was the backup then with just two series of playoff experience under his belt. The Bruins didn’t have a Halak-caliber backup during that run.

Rask and Halak are a tandem that Bruins won’t be shy about putting to use if necessary.

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