By Jack Cinquegrana | Follow me on Twitter @bruinschewy
On Saturday, August 15, Tuukka Rask opted out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and of the NHL’s bubble in Toronto to return home to be with his family.
In two games, he let up six goals on 54 shots, that is not the Tuukka Rask that we have all known and grown to love. He admitted in a statement before his departure that “it doesn’t feel like playoff hockey out there with no fans,” a statement that shook the Boston fanbase as well as fans and management around the league. Since then, Tuukka has received tons of support from his teammates, the organization, and many different NHL alumni and legends.
Paul Bissonnette took an interesting angle on the situation on the Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast when he said: “it was probably the right thing for him to say I am going to hand over the reins here to Halak to clearly a guy that is in the right state of mind… in this moment… stepping away was probably the smartest thing for the team.” I agree with Paul’s point; if Tuukka was not in the right frame of mind and he wanted to go home and did not care about the team, he could have lost the series and went home. He decided to take himself out instead of hurting the team, giving the job to a proven playoff veteran.
Despite most of the Boston media speculation on whether the Bruins can avoid elimination without Rask’s presence, Jaroslav Halak has already led the Boston Bruins past the Carolina Hurricanes in three straight wins. Can Halak get it done? I think he just answered that. In three games, Halak sported a 1.66 goals-against average, and a .931 save percentage facing less than 25 shots on net per game, credit to the defense. He only allowed one power-play goal in the three games on nine attempts. That is a guy that can backbone a long playoff run for this team. Jaro has played in the playoffs before for more than one team, he once went deep with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 before they were beaten in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers, but he has the experience, he just needs the support.
Jaroslav Halak was not alone in his great performance in those three games, the sturdy defensive corps for the Boston Bruins came together after Tuukka had left. You could tell from the puck drop of Game Three that these Bruins were playing more as a team. Breakouts were cleaner, more back-checkers for support on defense, the whole team bought into the fact that they have to block shots and play defense if they want to win games.
Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo were playing big penalty kill minutes all series. Charlie McAvoy is starting to come into his own; he is hitting, breaking out the puck, playing offense, blocking shots, setting up goals, and eating minutes up on the ice. I am not sure that there is much that this kid cannot do. I would like to see McAvoy with Grzelcyk more, I think Grizz has proven that he is very reliable even in tight when we are hemmed in our own zone, which allows Mac to make plays in the offensive end.
We are also getting secondary scoring from our back-end and forwards with big goals from Connor Clifton and Sean Kuraly. Everyone is buying into the system, and we are looking very positionally sound and defensively stout. The Bruins must continue what is working and play a team-defense. They have to take advantage of every opportunity they get, and so far, they have. When the Boston Bruins start playing more as a team, they are one scary contender the rest of the league should be worried about, and that began when Halak took over the crease for the Black and Gold.