The Boston Bruins held on for a 3-2 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night. After giving up two goals in the third period, Craig Smith buried the game-winner with 10 seconds left in the extra period.
We normally blame blown leads on the goaltender, but this near-collapse was not the fault of Tuukka Rask — not by a longshot. Rather, it was a handful of head-scratching mental lapses by the Bruins’ skaters that left the door open for the Penguins to get easy looks and come back to tie the game.
While those numbers aren’t terrible, the manner by which the Bruins allowed these shots is disturbing. They made stupid plays and left their goalies out to dry, and this was once again the case on Tuesday night.
Bruins’ Miscues Allowed Penguins to Nearly Steal Game
The Penguins’ first goal in the third period was strange. In the final seconds of a Pittsburgh power play, Rask appeared to suffer a lower-body injury after making one of his 28 saves on the night. The puck pinballed around while four tired Bruins stood and watched.
Charlie Coyle had the best chance at corralling the puck, but he was caught out of position and allowed Jason Zucker to get a shot on an open net, while the other three Bruins failed to notice Rask sprawled out on the ice.
This is not a terrible mistake. It’s late in the game, and the Bruins just spent two minutes killing a penalty. However, they still have to be aware of their goalie’s condition and be ready to stand in net if he goes down.
Whatever happened to Rask did not affect his play afterward, as he stayed in the game and bailed his teammates out again in overtime (more on that later). Head Coach Bruce Cassidy indicated after the game that he was not worried about the incident and did not consider taking Rask out.
Our players went over and asked him (if he was OK). We would have called timeout if need be or replaced him if we really had to. He said he was OK.
Rask sat out Wednesday’s practice, but Cassidy confirmed that this is just routine maintenance for the 33-year-old.
The Penguins’ second goal cannot be blamed on Rask, either. Instead of routinely firing the puck deep into the offensive zone, Brad Marchand decided to take on two defenders himself and had an ugly giveaway, allowing the speedy Kasperi Kapanen to break free and score in a one-on-one rush.
Overtime told a similar story. Evgeni Malkin’s one-on-nothing scoring chance was the result of a truly head-scratching mistake by Connor Clifton.
Breakaways are common in a three-on-three setting, but this one should never have happened. Clifton forgot how to play hockey for a moment and mishandled a routine pass from Smith. Rask had to take on Malkin by himself, and thankfully Malkin’s shot went high.
On another occasion in overtime, Rask used a well-timed poke check to break up a rare three-on-nothing rush. This lopsided breakaway was also caused by Marchand trying to do too much. With all three Penguins converging on him, he failed to give up the puck.
Easily Avoidable Mistakes Giving Opponents Free Points
This is not just a problem from Tuesday night. We saw the same breakdowns with Halak in net during the Bruins’ loss to the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 16.
Between giving up easy passes in front of the goal, mishandling the puck in the neutral zone, and literally giving the puck away in overtime, Boston’s skaters have not made life easy for their goaltenders in these contests.
In a shortened season, the margin for error is too small. Every point is precious. They can’t be playing in overtime this often, as that gives a point to the loser as well.
Boston will be outplayed at times this season; we can be sure of that. But on Tuesday night, they needlessly put their goalie on an island time and time again, gave the Penguins a free point, and almost gave away the game.
Despite these mistakes, the Bruins offense has been improving with every game. Rask and Halak look comfortable and confident. There is a lot to like about this team, but these mental lapses cannot happen if the Bruins want to compete in the East Division.
Halak will get the start on Thursday in a rematch against Pittsburgh. Look for the Bruins to play some more consistent, sharp hockey to support their goalie.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.