On a night highlighted by a 31-save shutout from Tuukka Rask, it is time to finally recognize the unmistakable asset that lies between the pipes for the Boston Bruins. Rask has seemingly taken his game to another level over the past two seasons and this may be due to his teams’ depth at the position.
Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak make for a tandem that is nearly unstoppable and rivaled throughout the NHL. It is a rarity to get such great play out of both your starting and backup goaltender and can be an incredible advantage, especially for teams with title aspirations like the Bruins.
Well Rested and Fresh
The ability to keep Rask fresh has been crucial for the Bruins and is a similar strategy to the one they employed when using Rask as a backup to Tim Thomas in 2011. In both 2011 and 2019, the Bruins goaltenders stood out in their postseason performances and this could be due to their rest during the regular season.
Rask’s 46 games played ranked just 25th among goaltenders in 2018-19, a number that would normally seem very low for an elite starting goaltender. Just seven spots behind Rask on that list was Halak who had 40 games played this past season.
Clearly, this is a pretty even split amongst the two goaltenders put together by head coach Bruce Cassidy and proved to be vital to a Stanley Cup run for the Bruins in 2018-19. Halak’s better-than-average capability in the regular season allowed his head coach to trust him and give his starter adequate rest. Come the postseason, Rask seemed to be better than ever, dominating the competition and leading his team to an Eastern Conference title.
This season has started off no different, as through four games the Bruins are 3-1-0 and have been dominant between the pipes. Rask has won all three starts and currently leads the NHL in that category. Meanwhile, Halak looked solid in his lone start against the electric offense of the Colorado Avalanche. Had it not been for two goals called back by way of replay, he may have won that start. Look for the Bruins to continue to split reps between the two, especially while both of them are playing at such a high level.
Halak posted a 2.34 goals-against average (GAA), which ranked seventh in the NHL among qualified goalies last season. This was actually four spots higher than Rask’s 2.48 GAA. The tandem was ranked as the second-best group in the NHL heading into this season in an article by ESPN.
Both goaltenders played at an elite level over a significant number of starts, helping the Bruins to win consistently even when some of their best players went down with injuries. While the Bruins struggled to score a bit when top center Patrice Bergeron went down, they had top-level goaltending to keep them hanging around in close games.
This season has been a similar story through four games as Rask allowed just one goal to the Dallas Stars, three to the high-powered Vegas Golden Knights, and shut out the New Jersey Devils.
He made strong stops on defensive breakdowns in all three games that could have completely shifted momentum the other way. The Bruins have multiple offensive-minded defensemen who like to be aggressive on the forecheck, such as Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy. Rask and Halak have cleaned up mistakes made on plays like these, stuffing breakaways and stopping odd-man rushes from finishing.
Halak has taken the lone loss for the Bruins against the Avalanche. However, he looked strong against a versatile offensive attack led by a top line of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon.
While the Bruins have brought back most of their roster and have gotten off to a great start to the season, it will be an increased advantage to have their goaltenders continue to play at an elite level. Injuries occur over a long and grueling 82-game season and, as seen in the past, the Bruins can continue to play solid hockey with the help of their goaltenders if this were to be the case. Splitting time between goaltenders will be the key to doing this as it will keep both Rask and Halak well-rested and fresh.