Tuukka Rask allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)
Life is about the little things. So I guess if there’s one thing netminder Tuukka Rask and the Bruins can take comfort in, it’s knowing that they won’t have to go to the Verizon Center, the scene of the crime for tonight’s 5-3 loss to the Capitals, again until next season.
(For a complete recap of the game, click here.)
In D.C. and with the high of a three-game winning streak that’s featured solid nights from the B’s best, the air came out of the Bruins’ sails quickly when they were put in a familiar hole behind a breakaway goal from TJ Oshie just 3:06 into the game, and then a two-goal hole when Nicklas Backstrom added another one just over 10 minutes later.
It was similar to the Two Shades of Red penned in the B’s first 2016-17 trip to the barn just within the Chinatown section of the District back on Dec. 7, though this Capitals two-goal lead came in almost 14 minutes versus the seven it took in the last game, so there was progress in some regard for the Black and Gold.
The Bruins progressed forward in another way, too, as Brad Marchand put the club on the board before the period came to a close, thanks to a Brad Marchand power-play goal scored with just 1:14 left in the period.
In what has become a frequent happening throughout this return to competitive hockey and off their January deathbed, the Bruins recognized the deepening hole and answered in the form of a momentum-shifting goal, hit, or fight.
Marchand and the B’s carried that into the second period, too, on their second power-play opportunity of the night behind an easy tic-tac-toe goal from Marchand for his second of the night, 23rd of the year, and his third multi-goal night in the last four games.
But old habits die hard, especially in this building, and the sirens followed, as Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin sniped a power-play goal through Rask with just 14 seconds left in the second period, which gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead after 40.
It was a goal that you could sense coming from a mile away, too, as the Bruins were straight-up bullied around their own zone for what felt like the entire second half of the second period, and their penalty was just the match the Caps needed to light it up. As for Ovechkin scoring it, well that’s a mere formality, as it was his eighth goal in 21 home games against the Bruins.
Up against it in Boogeyman Braden Holtby, a goaltender with 10 wins and a .948 save percentage in 11 career starts against the Bruins, down by a goal in the third period, the negatives compounded for the Bruins when Patrice Bergeron was hobbled with a massive slapshot right off the inside of his right knee on a penalty kill (Bergeron would go back down the tunnel, return, and then go back down the tunnel). Things got worse when ex-Bruin Brett Connolly — a player who would have tripped over his own helmet, broken a stick, and then somehow become a healthy scratch by the time he even made it to the net if he even attempted such a goal for the Bruins a year ago — scored to put the Capitals up by two just three and a half minutes into the third period.
Evgeny Kuznetsov made it a three-goal lead late in the period, and although the Bruins made it a two-goal game with a David Krejci goal late in the third period, it didn’t matter as the Caps rolled the Bruins at home in a business-as-usual night.
In a night that really saw the Bruins limit the Caps’ chances early and often, it was Tuukka Rask that looked every bit a goaltender that played last night and didn’t truly have an All-Star break, with five goals allowed on just 22 shots against.
These Washington ice struggles are nothing new to Rask, of course, as the effort dropped him to 0-6-4 with an .882 save percentage in 10 career games at the Verizon Center. It is the only Eastern Conference building in which Rask has yet to win a game, and just one of three buildings overall, with Anaheim’s Honda Center and the Kings’ Staples Center being the others.
But what was new was the exhaustion and delayed reactions that the 29-year-old appeared to struggle with in this game.
In the crease for his 43rd start of the season, which puts him in a tie with the Sharks’ Martin Jones for the second-most in the NHL behind Oilers netminder Cam Talbot’s 46, you could feel Rask struggle on his rebound control (evident on the Backstrom goal) and he even appeared to strain himself on a beautiful stop against Ovechkin late and with the game out of reach. Those are fatigue issues more than anything else, to be honest, and after almost 2,500 minutes in net this year, how could they not be?
Now, it obviously didn’t help that the Bruins put forth one of their worst defensive games of the entire season, but for this team to go anywhere, it has to be with Rask in net and looking like what he did for the first three months of the season. With that in mind, their situation (the Bruins need to win at close to a .650 winning percentage to make the playoffs, you’d believe) has not allowed them to give their franchise netminder the rest he likely needs, and that part of it is not going to change.
If Rask is the tired Rask that’s been burnt out in back-to-back years, nights like Wednesday will become the norm.
Be it in Washington, Boston, or anywhere else for that matter.
The Bruins are back in action Saturday night against the Maple Leafs at TD Garden.