Over the past few years, a number of things have gone wrong for the Boston Bruins down the stretch, which, when put together, ultimately led to the team’s demise. One of the issues the Bruins had year in and year out was the over-working of starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, particularly at the season’s end, when the stakes are a bit higher.
In a season of change for the B’s, many of these problems have been solved – leading many to believe that this year’s squad could be poised for a deep playoff run in the coming months. Rask’s workload is no exception – the net-minder has had a significantly lesser workload this season, and it’s shown in the way he’s played in the final weeks.
Rask’s Lighter Load
Last season, heading into the playoffs, Rask already had 65 games played (tied for third-most in the NHL) under his belt, the second-highest total of his career (he totaled a whopping 70 games in 2014-15). It’s an issue that was harped on by the Boston media at the season’s end and was no new story in Beantown. The Bruins had struggled to find a reliable back-up net-minder and were forced to roll with their number one guy more than they would’ve liked to as they fought for playoff positioning.
This season, however, has been a welcome change of pace for Rask, who will register his lightest workload (as far as games played, and games started) since 2013-14, when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder. With two games remaining in the regular season, Rask has tallied 53 games played (52 starts) – meaning that even if he were to start both of the final two games for Boston, he’d head into the postseason with ten fewer appearances than last season. Over the course of a grueling six-month, 82 game season, ten extra days off can go a long way.
Stronger Team Earns Rask Rest
Rask’s lighter workload this season can be attributed to a couple of things. For starters, Anton Khudobin has served as a more-than-serviceable backup behind Rask. The 31-year-old backup has appeared in 30 games for the B’s this season and has proven himself as a trustworthy backstop with his .913 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average.
Reaching beyond the crease, Boston’s team this season is undeniably stronger than last year, with noticeably more depth both offensively and defensively. What that strong roster means is that the Bruins are in a much more comfortable position when it comes to the standings than they have been in years past.
The Bruins are sitting in cushioned a playoff spot, as they have been for a good portion of the season. For a while, the Bruins have been battling for first in the East rather than for a playoff spot itself, and that lack of desperation has allowed the Bruins to rest Rask at a much more desirable rate than in previous campaigns.
The narratives surrounding this team say it all – the question for most of this season has not been whether or not the Bruins can qualify for a playoff spot, but rather how far they can go. And with a well-rested Rask, the Bruins could go quite a long way.
As we’ve seen plenty of times in the past, a hot goaltender can be the difference-maker for a team in the postseason. And Rask, like many goaltenders, is one who can ride the wave and make a huge difference for his team. With the rest he’s throughout the course of the season, Rask is in prime position to turn on the jets and propel the Bruins deep into the postseason.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!