By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
In the sport of ice hockey, goaltending is one of the most important aspects of the game. Quite often, in the National Hockey League, games are won specifically because of a solid performance in net by the goalie. This season, we have seen that numerous times throughout the league for many different teams.
In Boston, Tuukka Rask has been the number one goalie for the majority of the past decade and he has, for the most part, been a solid goalie, earning that spot over many solid seasons. Following the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup run that resulted in them winning the prestigious trophy, Tuukka Rask took over from Tim Thomas – the Conn Smythe winner.
Rask has played in 494 games in the Boston Bruins sweater after being traded to Boston in 2006 in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent Andrew Raycroft to the capital city of Ontario. Rask made his NHL debut against the franchise that drafted him in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, stopping 30 of the 32 shots he faced that night.
Since that initial taste of NHL experience, the 32-year-old Finnish goaltender now has 265 wins, 150 losses, 58 ties/shootout/overtime losses, and 45 shutouts. Among that, Rask holds numerous franchise records including most career wins (265), most career saves (12,591), and save percentage (.922). Tuukka is also in the top ten for the majority of the major statistical categories that are being tracked.
In the 2018-19 season, Rask has a 27-13-5 record with a .912 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against-average in 46 games started. Tuukka has only one game played against the Maple Leafs this season – stopping 30 of the 32 shots against him in a 3-2 win over Toronto on January 12th. While Rask has had a solid season, he has had a few games, like every goaltender, that are below average.
On five occasions, Rask allowed five goals in a single game and was pulled from the net in two of them. On the flip side, Rask has four shutouts and an impressive eleven games allowing only one goal. In each of those games, the Bruins won or lost in overtime or a shootout.
Early on, Rask failed to find his consistent game that we are used to seeing, but thankfully, the Bruins had some serious help behind him – Jaroslav Halak.
Halak joined the Bruins on the first day of free agency in this past offseason, signing a two-year deal worth $2.75 million annually. It confirmed that Halak will play in his 13th NHL season – the first in Boston. Within the 40 games he’s played in, Jaroslav has helped the Bruins earn 46 points in his 22 wins and four post-regulation losses in addition to his 11 regulation losses that he amounted to this year.
At 33 years of age, Halak is having his best season in the net since the 2009-10 season when he finished the year with a 26-13-5 record, a .924 save percentage and a 2.40 GAA with the Montreal Canadiens. The Bratislava, Czechoslovakia native is top ten in both of the main goalie stats in the entire league and he is continuing to play at that level, picking up his fifth shutout of the season in Thursday’s 3-0 win over the Wild.
With a quick trip over to Toronto, their goaltending situation right now is not nearly as sturdy as the Bruins appear to be. That fact only got more interesting on Friday when news that backup goaltender Garret Sparks’ equipment is no longer in the Leafs’ dressing room and Toronto Marlies goalie, Michael Hutchinson was recalled by the organization to play in the big leagues.
Put all of that into the same idea that starting netminder Frederik Andersen has not been consistently good for the past couple months and the worry can begin to form for the Maple Leafs with the playoffs only about a week away. Frederik Andersen is expected to get every single one of the starts in-goal if it goes seven games, that could be an issue if say, injuries or poor play take control.
Andersen started in sixty games in 2018-19, the eight most of all goaltenders in the National Hockey League. Andersen did win 36 games this season with 16 regulation losses and seven shootout or overtime losses. The Herning, Denmark native played in the least amount of games in a single season for the Leafs after two consecutive seasons with 66 games in the crease.
With that, Andersen finished the year with the worst save percentage (.917) of his three-year career in Toronto along with a 2.77 GAA and only one shutout on the campaign. In the last ten games, however, has been where Maple Leafs fans have been in a little doubt. Andersen has a 3-3-3 record with a .881 save percentage and allowed 35 goals, an average of 3.50 goals against per game. In three of those games, ‘Freddy’ allowed five or more goals and only allowed two or less goals four times in those ten games.
Andersen has had some rough games in the postseason as well, but still has a winning 22-16-0 record combined over five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs. In the Blue and White, Andersen has lost eight games, winning four. Three of those wins came against the Bruins last year, the other against Washington in the 2016-17 first round.
On five different occasions, Andersen allowed five or more goals against in the playoffs, three of which coming with the Maple Leafs – two against Boston. Andersen can be very hot too as he remains one of the better goaltenders overall in the NHL, but his consistency causes some concern for management and the fans alike. The Bruins cannot take him lightly as he can very well steal a few games at any point in the series.
In the past, Tuukka Rask has had some questionable games and has needed to be better in times as well. All goalies in the NHL must deal with having a rough outing, but need to have the adversity to bounce back the very next game and win it for the himself and more importantly, the team.
In Boston, however, if Rask fails to meet the standards that will need to bet met against Toronto, then the hope is that Halak can come in and “save the day”. While it would be preferred that Rask does not falter, it is always great to have a Plan B. There could also be the reality that Rask plays all seven games (if needed), even if he does have a few stinkers. That was the case last season, but it seems like Bruce Cassidy has higher trust in Halak than he did with Anton Khudobin last season.
The Maple Leafs are solely relying on Frederik Andersen. With the not-so-distant memories somewhere in his head, the pressure is clearly on him. He needs to be on his very best game and then some and everyone knows it. The same goes for Tuukka and Jaroslav. The two, three, or even four goaltenders in this series need to have the right frame of mind to come out victorious and get into the second round against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Columbus Blue Jackets. Whoever is on the winning side of the handshake line, will have won because of the man in between the posts.