Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Sorry, but this isn't all on Tuukka Rask no matter how much you want it to be

Scott McLaughlin
April 22, 2018 - 1:23 am

I know you want to blame this all on Tuukka Rask. I can you hear you screaming at your computer, phone or tablet screen. He choked! He’s soft! He can’t win the big game! You think I’m an idiot for writing this article.

Look, obviously Saturday night’s Game 5 loss to the Maple Leafs wasn’t Rask’s best game. Far from it. Four goals on 13 shots before getting pulled is an ugly stat line. But this wasn’t a case of a goalie letting in soft goals and being the main reason his team lost. This was a case of the Bruins starting slow, giving up too many dangerous chances, and their goalie just not making the big save to bail them out.

There’s a big difference between those two things. None of the four goals Rask allowed are ones you’d look at and think it was a save he absolutely should’ve made. But three of them were stoppable. Connor Brown’s goal that he batted in out of mid-air is the one that probably wasn’t because that was just a fluky kind of play.

The other three all would’ve required pretty noteworthy saves, the kind where about a dozen people you follow on Twitter would tweet something like “Remember that one if the Bruins come back,” but they weren’t unstoppable. And in all three cases, the Bruins’ defense was more at fault than Rask.

On Toronto’s second goal, the Bruins should’ve been in good shape defensively. It was a 2-on-2, but Andreas Johnsson managed to get behind Charlie McAvoy, and Nazem Kadri made a great pass to send him in alone. Johnsson had a ton of speed and beat Rask on the backhand as he streaked across the front of the net. 

Sure, Rask could’ve made the save. He’s made saves like that before. But hopefully we can all admit it would’ve been a tough save. There’s nothing easy about stopping a guy who’s bearing down on you all alone at pretty much full speed.

The third goal was another odd-man rush off a stretch pass, something that’s happened too often this series. Some good puck movement from the Leafs resulted in Tyler Bozak getting an open look as Rask moved across the crease from right to left.

Rask was a little slow getting across for sure. He probably should’ve been able to get more squared up to the shot than he was. But again, there’s still no way it would’ve been an easy save. And there’s still the fact that it was an odd-man rush, and that Bozak ended up wide open in a prime scoring area. That would seem to be a bigger concern, no?

The fourth goal, the one that prompted coach Bruce Cassidy to go to the bullpen, came on the power play when James van Riemsdyk took a pass behind the net and was free to just walk out front to the left doorstep and roof a shot over Rask’s shoulder. Could Rask have been bigger and taken away the top of the net? Possibly. But he was hugging the post and didn’t give van Riemsdyk a whole lot to shoot at. Give some credit to van Riemsdyk for hitting his spot.

This isn’t meant to completely excuse Rask. Great NHL goalies don’t just make the saves they should make; they often make the difficult saves as well. There are plenty of nights when Rask does that (yes, even in the playoffs -- see Game 4 just two nights ago), but Saturday wasn’t one of them (although he did make one pretty good save on William Nylander in close early in the second period).

Rask was the first one to admit after the game that he should’ve been better.

“Probably could’ve stopped more pucks with my eyes closed,” Rask said. “That’s about it. It’s on me, but moving on to the next one and we’ll finish it out in Toronto.”

His coach was pretty blunt about his performance as well.

“I didn’t think he had it tonight, so we went with Anton [Khudobin], who has been very good for us,” Cassidy said. “And then there’s always that part, gets the rest of the team’s attention as well. So, it’s both. I don’t want to measure, quantify what percentage of each, but clearly if I thought he was on, then he wouldn’t have got pulled. I guess I’ll put it that way.”

That’s all correct. No one would argue that Rask “had it” or “was on” Saturday night. But don’t let his teammates off the hook, either. While they made a strong surge as they attempted to come back from 4-1 down, their poor start was every bit as big a reason they were in that hole as Rask, and they know it.

“Definitely not his fault tonight,” McAvoy said. “Whenever he gets pulled we know that we didn’t do our job. But we’re fine. He’s got our back and we’ve got his. So, we’ll go back to the drawing board and we’re going to play a lot better in front of him next game. Start from the beginning, not just picking up in the second and third and playing good once he’s already out of there and the damage is done. We’re going to come out and play a lot better starting from the get-go.”

Go ahead and throw Rask under the bus if you want. The same critics who had nothing to say after Game 4 are foaming at the mouth now. Enjoy your never-ending quest to trash a guy who ranks second all-time in career save percentage and seventh all-time in postseason save percentage.

The rest of us will acknowledge that Rask had a rough game Saturday, and also that he’s still one of the best goalies around. Believe it or not, great players don’t have great games every single night.

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