Regardless of how you feel about the Boston Bruins’ goaltending situation, there’s no denying that Tuukka Rask now has a chance to silence the critics.
Keep in mind, I am not one of those critics. But they do exist, in much larger numbers than you might expect.
Rask is an easy target for some. At this point, those who continue to crush him are blinded by stubbornness. Their insecurities are getting the best of them. And instead of just admitting they’re wrong, they hold onto the hope that maybe, one day, in a big spot, a puck will trickle off his glove and into the net, so that they can hit send on the tweet they’ve had saved in their draft folder for months.
“The Bruins will never win with Tuukka.”
That will be the tweet or the headline of somebody’s story, describing what went wrong with the 2017-18 Bruins and why they desperately need a change in goal, if they’re not lifting the Stanley Cup in June. Rask will also be a heavy talking point on TV and radio in Boston, if the B’s aren’t the last team standing, hoisting, and spraying champagne all over the spoked-B. Even if it’s not his fault.
Maybe it will be his fault. Maybe it won’t. Heck, maybe the Bruins will win the Cup.
With the second-most wins in the Eastern Conference, these Bruins certainly have a chance to win it all. But make no mistake, in order for that to happen, Rask will have to play the way I believe he’s capable of.
Rask finished the regular season with the second-best goals-against average in the East, at 2.36. His 53 starts marks the least amount of starts he’s made in a single season since the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. Rask led the Bruins to the Cup Final that year, only to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
He still takes heat for that, or at least, for the final two minutes of Game 6, when the B’s lost a two-goal lead and watched the Blackhawks celebrate at the TD Garden.
No goaltender in the league should get a free pass for that. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Chicago’s scoring opportunities on both of those goals were a result of some flat-footed puck-watching by Bruins skaters. But why would anyone want to deal with facts, when you can just keep piling onto the goalie?
I know, I know. You want Rask to steal some games, especially the most meaningful ones. And since their appearance in the Cup Final in 2013, the B’s made the playoffs twice in the last four seasons leading up to this year, losing in the second round in 2014 to the Montreal Canadiens, and losing in the first round last year to the Ottawa Senators.
Like I told you a few years back, Rask does need to steal the Bruins some games, for sure, but many times over the last four years, you were asking him to rob a bank. That’s because the Bruins’ defensive core was decimated, which is something nobody can say now.
Charlie McAvoy is only 20 years old and will already be getting his second taste of the playoffs when the B’s open the first round on Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Garden. Zdeno Chara has not had the drop-off that most 41-year-olds experience, in any sport. But maybe more important than anything else, has been the improvement of Kevan Miller.
The 30-year-old defenseman is in his fifth NHL season, all with the Bruins. But he has very quietly become one of the team’s more trustworthy players on the back end.
Put it this way, Miller has come a long way from being the guy who threw the puck out to the front of his own net in Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, just two minutes into the game, which led to an easy Canadiens goal. It’s that type of improvement on the Bruins’ blue line, to go along with a young top-four defenseman like McAvoy, that’s helped the B’s get back to being a team we feel good about entering the playoffs.
And all of it certainly helps Rask, who once again has a legitimate Cup contender in front of him, presenting a golden opportunity to silence the critics for good.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.