Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask allowed five goals on 17 shots on Thursday. (Walter Tychnowicz/USA Today Sports)
The Bruins lost — and lost badly — for just the fourth time in their last 16 games on Thursday night. So naturally, there had to be a scapegoat.
No, this couldn’t just be a tired team losing on the second leg of a traveling back-to-back. The Bruins played in Calgary and ended the Flames’ 10-game win streak on Wednesday while the Oilers have been in Edmonton since Mar. 1 and were playing in just their sixth game in the last 16 days. Irrelevant. We need a scapegoat, dammit. This couldn’t be giving the Oilers’ man advantage — which came into action ranked as the 7th-best power play in the NHL with a 21.3 percent success rate — six power-play opportunities, including four in the first 32 minutes of action. I’ve told you already, a scapegoat must be found!
So as it almost always does when this team loses, the ire of B’s fans landed on their goaltender, Tuukka Rask, who allowed five goals on 17 shots and was given the early hook from Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy in what finished as a 7-4 loss for the Black and Gold.
But let’s be real: This loss does not fall on the 30-year-old Rask.
Not if you have a clue as to what you watched happen in front of him on Thursday, anyways.
For 60 minutes, the Oilers took advantage of a gassed B’s club and further winded them with a relentless forecheck that straight-up battered the Boston defensive corps around, and routinely outworked the Bruins to put themselves in prime scoring areas.
On the first Oil goal of the night (scored on the power play), Jordan Eberle did a stellar job of drawing two B’s penalty-killers towards him as he ventured down the half-wall. The B’s were fooled by Eberle (typically a shoot-first guy), Eberle found the perfect seam between Brad Marchand and Adam McQuaid. That hit Maroon — who was comfortably behind both Marchand and McQuaid — and gave him a clear look on slide post-to-post Rask. His bid came up short and the Oilers were on the board.
Just moments later, the Bruins made the mistake (if you want to call it that) of devoting their resources towards covering Connor McDavid on Maroon’s second goal of the night, with three skaters on McDavid and nobody in the lane to block his chip-down-and-center pass to Maroon, who had inside positioning on McQuaid for an easy goal against No. 40. Too easy.
This was just the start of Edmonton’s fun in the slot.
The Yakety Sax routine in the defensive zone continued when David Desharnais blasted into the Boston zone with speed, when around the net, and then dished it to a Benoit Pouliot, who had fallen down in front of the net on the sequence, and scored a goal while being surrounded by five — yes, five — Bruins skaters. It was a seemingly impossible finish to a low-risk look from the Oil.
I didn’t think it could get worse than Pouliot’s goal. But to quote pop-punk favorites Modern Baseball, “Yeah, about that…”
The Oilers added their fourth of the period on an insane deflection from Anton Slepyshev, but the play really started when Darnell Nurse’s decision to pinch in and attack the net took Torey Krug away from his side and in pursuit behind the net. That allowed Connor McDavid, tied for the league lead in points, all the time and space needed to put a shot on Rask without a single defense from the Bruins, and it was Slepyshev that finished the play off as Frank Vatrano just watched with one hand on his stick.
That wasn’t the first or the last time that puck-watching hurt the Bruins and led to a goal against Rask.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins kicked the second period off with a power-play goal banked off Riley Nash’s skate and into the B’s net.
Like that, and in just 22 minutes, Rask’s night was finished with five goals 17 shots against.
But the proof that it wasn’t necessarily his fault came just minutes later.
In an attempt to become the aggressors in search of a successful comeback, McQuaid made a straight-up horrid pass attempt from blue line to blue line but was intercepted by Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl then stormed into the B’s zone without much resistance from the Bruins — seriously, Draisaitl must have taken about three strides and had about three seconds of puck-dancing towards Anton Khudobin, on in relief of Rask, without a single Bruins skater in sight — and began the assault on Khudobin, who allowed two goals on 19 shots in what was by all means garbage time mop-up duty.
“It was just an awful game by everyone,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said after the defeat. “Too many breakdowns defensively. You get down by three goals probably before the 10-minute mark (of the first period) and it’s tough to catch up from there. I think our d-zone coverage was nowhere to be found and they took advantage of that.”
So why is this Rask’s fault? Well, this was another ‘big game’ for the Bruins and Rask didn’t stand on his head.
The short version of what I think about that theory can be found here.
The slightly longer version: There’s a cabal of fans out there that hold two specific incidents against Rask. And no, they will never let it go for as long as they’re fans of the team or as long as Rask is this team’s goaltender. One: Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against Chicago, when he and the Bruins had a nuclear meltdown in the final moments of a must-win game and allowed the Blackhawks to win the Cup on Garden ice. To hold that incident against him and say that he’s not a big game goalie because of that is straight-up silly, as the Bruins do not advance to the fourth round without Rask’s utterly ridiculous third-round series against the Penguins, where he posted a .985 save percentage in the four-game sweep and held both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to a combined zero points in the series. Two: Rask bailing out of last year’s must-win season finale with a stomach virus. This one is truly weird. People actually wanted to see a grown man vomit on the playing surface a la Donovan McNabb because even though he would have been completely useless (as all sick people are), that would’ve meant that he cared.
Was Thursday night in Edmonton a big game? Sure. But here’s a secret: They’re all big games this time of year. Saying that Rask didn’t show up for this one big game also conveniently ignores the fact that he had for the first 11 games under Cassidy, with eight wins and a .926 save percentage to his name before this start. And the Bruins skated in far bigger games at the start of the Cassidy tenure, too, namely in their first game against the Sharks, and in their pre-bye finale against the Canadiens. Those were big games for Rask given the competition he was up against and the desperate need for points given the B’s place in the standings back then.
To hell with that though, ’cause any and every loss needs a scapegoat. And Rask is still the easiest one for some.