BOSTON – The up and down nature of Tuukka Rask’s last month continued it’s wild ride on Tuesday night with a lacking performance against the Maple Leafs. The Bruins outshot Toronto by a 41-26 margin through the 60-minute game, but failing special teams combined with a soft goal surrendered by Rask led to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Maple Leafs at TD Garden.
Rask wasn’t berating himself for the ultimate game-winning goal, a James van Riemsdyk shot that redirected off Zdeno Chara’s stick before beating him to the glove side in the third period. But he did regret the Jake Gardiner power play wrist shot from the right face-off dot that beat Rask high to the glove side in the second period, and put the Leafs in an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
“It looked like [Gardiner] kind of duffed on it a little bit; either way it’s kind of a bad goal. So that’s my bad,” said Rask. “But again, those [other] three goals, what do you do? “You barely break a sweat there and let in four goals. Then you’re like there’s nothing really you could have done more.”
Rask has allowed 21 goals in the seven games since Dennis Seidenberg went down with a knee injury, and coughed up four or more goals in three of those seven games. It’s not so much the total, though, as much as the softness of some of the goals he’s been surrendering lately.
“If you start feeling sorry for yourself, it’s not going to help, I think that’s the biggest thing. You recognize the goals you’ve let in; some of them are bad goals, and then some of them you have no chance,” said Rask. “I think lately there’s been a few games where I’ve let in one bad goal.
“[It’s] not necessarily an embarrassing goal, but like pucks [are] going through me and stuff. So that’s something I need to fix, but then you get those back doors and deflections. There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to stay with it and be focused on the next game, next puck, and hope for the best.”
Of more concern: Rask is approaching his career-high in starts (39) for an NHL season after starting his 37th game of the year Tuesday night vs. the Maple Leafs. The Bruins goaltender has watched his numbers drop every month of the season: the first three months were in the same ballpark (Oct.: 1.73 GAA, .940%, Nov.: 2.06 GAA, .929%, Dec.: 2.22 GAA, .927%) even if they were in descending order
But the bottom is dropping out since the calendar switched over to 2014 with a Bruins team in front of him that’s been slumping offensively and defensively. Rask has a 3.00 goals against average and a rough-looking .898 save percentage to go along with the 2-3-0 record in five starts.
Many have been reluctant to broach the fatigue factor in Rask’s game, but the simple truth is this: Rask has never been the No. 1 goaltender for a full NHL season where he had to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 games. That’s before one even factors in holding a surplus in the gas tank for the postseason after a full year’s workload put in by a franchise goaltender.
Some of it is clearly Rask fighting the puck a little bit, and some of it is the failings of the players defending in front of him. That is the time when the true franchise goaltender elevates his game to cover for the flaws of his scuffling teammates, and that’s what the Bruins need out of the NHL’s highest paid goaltender during the dog days of the hockey season.