Rask & Officiating Didn’t Cause Early Exit

In Game 5 of their second-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Boston Bruins were eliminated from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their quest for ice hockey’s most-saught-for trophy was over.

Thus the blame game ensued in Boston. Fans and media alike began pointing the finger – most in one of two places: goaltender Tuukka Rask, and the poor officiating throughout the series.

Tuukka Rask Bruins Referee
Boston Bruins fans have unfairly blamed Tuukka Rask and NHL referees for their postseason woes. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

While it is understandable to criticize the two entities, they should not be blamed for Boston’s playoff exit. The blame truly resides on 18 sets of shoulders: the Bruins’ skaters.

Rask Victim of Bruins’ Poor Play

Rask is not to blame for the Bruins’ dreadful performance against Tampa Bay.

No. 40’s greatest lowlight this postseason was the fact that he was unable to steal any games. It doesn’t take more than a glance at the goaltender’s stats to realize that he was just about average since mid-April. The 31-year-old held a record of 5-7 during Boston’s 2018 playoff run with a goals-against-average (GAA) of 2.88 and a .903 save percentage (SV%).

In fact, the above playoff stats are Rask’s worst in the five postseason runs he has led. It’s easy to see why Rask has received plenty of criticism this Spring, but it is important to realize that the team in front of him wasn’t exactly spectacular. Actually, they were downright dreadful for the majority of this postseason.

The team’s skaters seemed to show up very inconsistently, which has been a consistent problem for them in recent years. Reflect back on Games 1 and 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Think about how high-flying, fast-paced, that Bruins team was through the first 120 minutes of their first-round series. Now, jump ahead to Game 3 of that series. It was a completely different team in front of Tuukka Rask, plagued by turnovers, lost races to 50-50 pucks, and poor execution.

Tuukka Rask Bruins
Tuukka Rask was plagued by an inconsistent Boston Bruins team in front of him. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

In each of the Bruins’ wins this postseason, the skaters were something to marvel at. In every loss, however, they had the Boston faithful yelling at their television screens and angrily taking their observations to social media platforms.

Still, Rask has received the brunt of the hate from many fans, but that doesn’t seem to phase the Bruins’ starting goaltender:

‘I don’t care…Fans are passionate and they can say whatever the want. It’s their right. It won’t effect my game.’ – Tuukka Rask

The argument stands that Rask was not his best self this postseason, especially compared to what we saw from him during the second half of the regular season. Between Jan. 2 and Apr. 8, Rask appeared in 29 contests in which the Bruins went 21-6-2. He sported a .913 SV% and gave up two goals or fewer in 16 of those starts – that’s over 50%.

But, it’s hard to steal games when you are being bombarded by shots due to your team’s inability to maintain possession. Especially in the last four games of their playoff run, the Bruins found it hard to get the puck past their own blue line let alone across Tampa Bay’s. Meanwhile, Boston basically handed the Lightning the neutral zone, and the team in blue was then able to easily set themselves up for an attack on Rask’s net.

Officials Made Winning Harder, Nothing More

Was the officiating poor and inconsistent in the Bruins’ series against Tampa Bay? That is indisputable. Was it the reason the Bruins dropped four straight games? Absolutely not.

Brad Marchand Bruins
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand yells at referee Marc Joannette after being called for a slashing penalty. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

The officials made it more difficult for the Bruins to win games in the second round, but it is the job of professional athletes to keep their heads down and plow through it. Perhaps the Bruins would have won a game if the tripping of Charlie McAvoy was called in the late stages of Game 4. But you can’t blame the officials for keeping Boston in their own zone for the majority of the series, and their inability to score at even strength.

The boys in black and gold were relying far too heavily on their power play for production. Since Game 2 of that series, the Bruins were unable to score a single five-on-five goal. That’s a recipe for disaster in any game, especially against the best team in the Atlantic Division during the postseason.

That’s not to say the series went without the referees making a considerable impact, but blaming the men in stripes for a clearly lackluster Bruins team is ludicrous. Are the officials responsible for Boston dropping six of the last eight games of their playoff run? No, that resides with the skaters who were unable to execute and looked downright dreadful for the majority of that stretch.

So, while you can criticize the officiating and Rask for not being at their prime, consider the play of the 18 skaters in the black and gold jerseys before concluding who is to blame for the Bruins’ second-round exit.