Frongillo: Bruins’ Playoff Hopes Rest on Rask’s Shoulders
When it comes to Tuukka Rask’s value to the Boston Bruins it’s always a matter of dollars and sense.
Ever since Rask signed an eight-year $56 million deal in 2013, many who pledge allegiance to the Black and Gold have felt he’s not played up to the level of his contract, especially come playoff time, which is when the NHL’s best goalies are expected to perform at their pay grade.
For the most part Rask has been up to the task in the NHL’s second season. But his detractors believe otherwise.
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of a goalie, Rask is the masked man Bruins fans love to hate. The Bruins showed him the money, and while there have been plenty of times when Rask has earned his keep, including the playoffs, all those impressive numbers on his pay stub haven’t added up to the Bruins sipping champagne from the Cup with him cast in the role as the No. 1 netminder.
In many ways, Rask has given the Bruins plenty of bang for the buck. Rask is the winningest goaltender in franchise history with 265 victories. He has a 2.28 goals-against-average and 45 shutouts in 495 regular season games. He backed up Tim Thomas during the Bruins’ skate to the Cup in 2011.
His playoff record is 35-30 with a save percentage of .924, a 2.25 GAA and five shutouts. Rask’s name will likely never be mentioned by Boston fans in the same breath as Gerry Cheevers or Thomas when it comes to his ability to make all the saves that matter in the playoffs.
But Rask is in the upper class of goaltenders in this year’s playoff pool. When he’s at the top of his game, the Bruins are at their best.
Rask backboned the Bruins’ run to the finals in 2013, finishing with a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage with three shutouts in 22 games. Those numbers would have been worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy, given each year to the playoff MVP, had the Bruins been able to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals that year.
The puck doesn’t drop for Game 1 of the Bruins best-of-seven, first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs until Thursday at the TD Garden. And already there is speculation that should Rask (27 wins, 2.48 GAA, 4 shutouts this season) stumble at any point, backup Jaroslav Halak should be summoned from the bullpen.
Halak had a fine season during his first winter in Boston, winning 22 games with a 2.34 GAA and five shutouts. But for those among us waiting for Rask to stub his toe against a Maple Leafs club that can score goals in bunches, be careful what you wish for.
Halak has played for five teams, including the Bruins, during his 13 seasons stopping pucks in the NHL. There have been times where he’s gone on incredible rolls, and stretches where he fights the puck.
Halak’s playoff record is 13-15 with a 2.39 GAA in 30 postseason games. Solid numbers. However, nine of his wins and 18 of his playoff appearances came with Montreal back in 2010.
Like it or not, you know what you are getting with Rask, who won a Veznia Trophy, given annually to the NHL’s top goalie, for his play during the 2013-14 season.
Cup-winning teams are built from the goal out. Tuukka’s time to stand tall in the crease is now. The Bruins compiled 107 points this season and have a legitimate shot at making a deep playoff run.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (62 wins, 128 points) are the Cup favorites. Boston and Tampa Bay are on a second-round collision course.
This edition of the Bruins has the front-line talent and depth needed to be playing hockey in June.
Provided, of course, Rask is money in net.
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi.