Tuukka Rask left in the first period of Thursday’s loss to the Predators. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)
It may have been a scoreless affair, but everything was going swimmingly for the Bruins. Just over 12 minutes into the first period, the Bruins controlled the pace of play and were outshooting the Predators 7-to-3. Their defensive game was stout and three-zone support from the center — and wingers, too — was there.
Then came a heavy slapshot from Predators defenseman Roman Josi that changed the fortune for each bench in a 2-1 Preds win.
Rifled between the circles and blue line, the shot rocked Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask right where the padding stopped or gave ever so slightly, and off came Rask’s glove and the mask shortly followed. B’s trainer Donny Del Negro came out to attend to the 29-year-old, and exited Rask in favor of rookie backup Zane McIntyre.
And it was then that you could feel the air leave the Bruins, not in one fell swoop, but in a little-by-little trickle reminiscent of everything that came before what was a successful road trip for the Black and Gold. The story of the year came back to the Bruins, and their little mistakes became big, glaring mistakes.
The Bruins survived a five-minute penalty kill and allowed the Preds to put just one shot on goal, but allowed a goal just 31 seconds after the penalty ended when Austin Watson capitalized on a muffed clear attempt by Torey Krug.
Krug atoned for the error near the midway point of the period, but it was at the 17:36 mark of the period that Filip Forsberg outmuscled Brandon Carlo in a one-on-one battle to score on McIntyre and put the Predators up 2-1 through 40 minutes of play when they were just 2:24 away from escaping the middle frame with a 1-1 draw on each bench.
It was a fitting go-ahead goal given everything the Bruins did and did well in this game.
The shots were there, but the finish was not. The effort was there, but the clock worked against the Bruins.
Even more of that happened in the third period, too, when the Bruins put 13 shots on goal and allowed just four at the other end but failed to get anything by Predators netminder Juuse Saros, who made a career-high 35 stops in the win.
Is this much different with Rask in net? It’s hard to say when the Bruins gave their netminders just one goal of support. But you get the sense that their mentality would have been just a little bit different and there wouldn’t be such a fatalistic approach that came with each goal against tonight — and on the year for that matter when you look at how the B’s have fared without Rask.
Without Rask in their crease and at their disposal as the club’s last line of defense, the Bruins just look like the embodiment of a team that feels like they have to work two times harder than the other club to get the same result — and they were close to it tonight, with 36 shots compared to just 19 from the Predators — and even then, it might not be enough.
Call it what you want; Frustration, a mental blockade, or just bad luck.
But also call it what it is: the team’s 11th loss in 12 games not finished by their ace netminder.