By its very solitary nature, the role of backup goaltender in the NHL is not a glamorous one. However, unlike the NFL for instance where backup quarterbacks are basically a last resort in case of emergency (injuries or serious struggles), these goalies are called into action much more frequently. Since he became Boston’s full-time starting goaltender three seasons ago, Tuukka Rask (13-7-3, .918 save percentage, 2.42 goals against average and 4 shutouts) has seen a revolving (bench) door of guys behind him: Anton Khudobin, Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg and now Jonas Gustavsson. The early returns on Gustavsson (6-2-1, 2.43 goals against average, .912 save percentage) have been quite positive and after Sunday’s 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey (16-13-5) at TD Garden, it’s not a stretch to think that he might be the best of that admittedly average bunch.
“You do not want to be the guy that comes in and everyone’s got to change their game,” noted Gustavsson. “Tuukka’s been playing lights out lately so I’ve just got to try to take advantage of every chance that I get to play and basically do whatever I can to help the team get the points. No matter who is playing, we all believe in each other and I need to do my part when I’m called upon. So far, so good.”
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Finding the right balance of workload between the starter and the backup goaltender is one of the toughest parts of the job for NHL head coaches. Ideally, you want the No. 1 to receive somewhere around 55-60 starts in the regular season if the team is going to make the playoffs. In 2013-14 when the Bruins won the President’s Trophy (best regular season record), Rask started 58 games. Conversely, last season when Boston missed out on the postseason by a single point, Bruins head coach Claude Julien had to start Rask a whopping 70 times. Many goaltenders in today’s NHL are enormous (which coupled with the comically large size of their pads is the main reason why scoring is so down across the sport) and while Rask is 6-foot-3he’s only listed at 176 pounds not that anyone is really built for that many games in a single-season.
Keeping Gustavsson in a regular rotation and playing well is one of the underrated keys for the B’s the rest of the way. The Bruins will be in much better shape if he can spell Rask from time to time and like now, there is not much of a noticeable drop-off between the play of the two.
“Every win is important, so you try to stay with it,” said Gustavsson. “You’re not happy just because you got one point, you’re trying to keep the same focus and really trying to get that last point too because in the end of the season, all those points are going to be huge.”
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate