It would be a stretch to say the Boston Bruins are in a life-or-death spot in their NHL playoff series with the archrival Montreal Canadiens, trailing 2-1 in games after last nights’ 4-2 loss in Game 3. But the Bruins certainly need to have alarm bells going off and the biggest is the fact they’re most valuable asset—goaltender Tuuka Raask—is simply not getting it done in this series.
Rask is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, the goaltending equivalent of the Cy Young Award, and as the goalie who led the NHL in save percentage and played for the league’s most successful regular season team, I would imagine he’ll get it. There’s no doubting his excellence, but his showing these last three games leave a certain amount to be desired.
The raw numbers themselves could tell the story—Raask has faced 85 shots and allowed nine goals (Montreal’s 10th goal, the final one of last was an empty-netter). An 89 percent save rate puts you among the worst in the NHL during the regular season.
Now, in fairness, you aren’t playing one of the top eight teams in the league every single night in the regular season the way you do in the second round of the playoffs, but it’s still far from Vezina caliber.
Not every goal has been Raask’s fault. Certainly the first one last night was not, where Tomas Plekanec beat every Bruin defender to a rebound and an easy putback after Raask had already made a nice save. The goalie’s lateral movement is great, but somewhere along the line, defensemen have to clear the puck.
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You could also argue for Raask’s acquittal on each of the next two goals, where P.K. Subban and Dale Wiese got the puck in the open ice and came on a breakaway. It definitely wasn’t a case of stellar team play, to expose Raask that way. But I’ve watched the Bruins play throughout the regular season—as a subscriber to the Center Ice hockey package, I probably watch anywhere from 60-70 regular season games. And Raask makes those plays more often than not.
That’s ultimately the rub. If you break down each goal allowed, some are blatantly the fault of the defense, and only a couple have been obvious breakdowns by Raask. But he is losing the one-on-one battles, whether it’s open ice, or Subban beating him consistently on the power play. Montreal—particularly Subban—is making genuinely outstanding plays. The problem is that Boston is used to seeing Raask win those kinds of battles.
Thus, it’s not that Tuuka Raask has been terrible. He hasn’t. What he has been is average, and that’s on a team that needs him to be great. It’s at the point in the postseason where the teams that move forward usually having goalies elevating beyond average and into excellence. Raask has done that all season long. He did it in the first-round series win over the Detroit Red Wings. He can still do it against Montreal, but the sand is slipping through the hourglass.