“Tuuuuuukk!” Will last Monday night at TD Garden be the final time that chant is shouted after a big save by Tuukka Rask? The embattled Boston goalie has been the target of the wrath of a loud minority of Bruins nation for a long time, and the team’s meltdown in New York on Wednesday night that knocked them out of the playoffs did not do much to quiet his detractors. Rask didn’t help his cause in the 6-2 beatdown by the Islanders. But he certainly wasn’t the reason they lost.
After a dominating series against the Washington Capitals, the Bruins seemed destined to roll over the 4th-seeded Islanders who upset Pittsburgh in Round 1. Boston jumped out to a 2 games to 1 lead during which they appeared to be the clearly superior team. Then, the Islanders took a page out of the game plan of the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals. They began to outhustle and outmuscle the Bruins — and subtly got dirty.
Bruins Gain Momentum
The tide turned in Boston’s OT victory in Game 3 when blueliner Brandon Carlo was injured when he was violently checked into the boards. The injury would sideline him for the rest of the series, and the Bruins never won another game. Perhaps even more crucial was the absence of defenseman Kevan Miller for the entirety of the series for a suspected concussion absorbed in the series against Washington. Talk about bad timing; it has been reported that he would have been ready to play in a clinching Game 7 against NY.
With the loss of Zdeno Chara to free agency, Miller was the closest thing Boston had to an enforcer. Without him, the Islanders were able to bully the Bruins. Exhibit A: Early in the series clincher, top-notch defender Charlie McAvoy received an illegal elbow to the head (not called) that sent him to the bench to get his senses back. Due to the stinger, he was off the ice for six minutes of action during which the Islanders took the lead. What’s more, without Miller and Carlo, Boston had no physical response for the cheap shot.
In addition to defensive losses and a lack of toughness, the Boston Bruins were missing secondary scoring throughout the series. Other than the top “perfection” line, they had a lot of difficulty putting the puck in the net. Trade-deadline pickup Taylor Hall slumped after playing like such a beast at the end of the regular season and against the Caps in the first round. Likewise, the bottom two lines didn’t contribute. All in all, the Islanders exposed a glaring lack of depth.
Was Rask Injured?
Back to Rask. In the season-ending defeat, he could really only be blamed for one goal when he made a poor clearing pass. New York’s other key goals were scored on ugly, backbreaking turnovers by other players (hello, Matt Grzelcyk.)
It was revealed after the season that Rask was injured and will require hip surgery that will keep him out until at least 2022. Should coach Bruce Cassidy have started rookie Jeremy Layman in Game 6 as the aforementioned loud minority has opined? We’ll never know if that would have made a difference, but it’s doubtful, considering the lack of scoring and defensive breakdowns.
Besides, Rask admitted that he has been injured since the Toronto bubble, so he was obviously able to play through it. That’s why Cassidy trusted him when he told him he was ready to go. A different player might be applauded for his toughness. But, in Boston, Rask is cast as a player who isn’t clutch — fair or not.
By: Peter Mooney CruelFan.com