If there is anything that hockey in the bubble has shown us about the Boston Bruins, it’s their resiliency and ability to step up in the big moment. Immediately to start the playoffs, they made a statement in a Game 1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes following three round-robin losses. This was no different Saturday when the Bruins found out they would lose starting goaltender Tuukka Rask for the remainder of the postseason.
Thought to be a huge blow to the Bruins and their chances of making a deep playoff run, Games 3 and 4 showed there is far more to worry about than just Boston’s Vezina Trophy-candidate goaltender. Rallying around backup Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins dominated and took a 3-1 series lead following victories on Saturday and Monday over the Carolina Hurricanes, bringing back memories of a goaltending situation they have faced before.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bruins have faced the situation of having to change goaltenders on the fly in the past, and they’ve had success. In the 2012-13 season, the Bruins were without then-starter Tim Thomas, who had decided to take a leave similar to Rask’s this past week.
Thomas had just led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in the 2010-11 season and was thought to be a crucial part of their success. His backup, Rask, stepped up, helping a team that rallied around him in net to go all the way to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, where they finally perished to the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks.
In the 2017-18 campaign, Rask started his season with a 3-8-2 record, leading head coach Bruce Cassidy to sit him down for then-backup Anton Khudobin. Khudobin performed well in Rask’s absence and even had a four-game win streak, getting the Bruins back on track before Rask was reinstated as the starter in November. So again, evidence of the Bruins’ ability to rally around whoever is in net and elevate their game when needed.
A Worthy Replacement
The truth is, the Bruins had planned for this and were prepared. Halak was brought in not only to keep Rask rested but also to keep Boston from completely tanking if Rask were to get injured, or in this case leave his team out of the blue.
Over the past two seasons, Halak has started 66 games for the B’s, winning 40 with a .921 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) in that span. The numbers show that, in a somewhat large sample size, Halak has been a force since coming to Boston, and one of the reasons the team (and Rask) have elevated their games over the past couple of seasons.
The team plays well in front of Halak and he has played well when in net. They may not quite be the team that they are with Rask but the full commitment of Halak to this postseason could be the difference for the Bruins as they have seemingly found their game after their round-robin embarrassment.
The Road to the Cup
Currently, with a 3-1 advantage over the Hurricanes in the first round, the Bruins will have a competitive end to this series ahead of them. After playing their best overall game in the bubble on Saturday, they will look to follow it up against a Hurricanes team that may be a bit vulnerable after losing one of their best players in Andrei Svechnikov for what could be the entire series.