Columnists, Sports

Going for Two: Don’t blame Tuukka Rask for Bruins’ recent shortcomings

Tuukka Rask has played well between the pipes for most of his time in Beantown, but the blame for the Bruins’ struggles always seems to fall on him. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIPEDIA COMMON

Tuukka Rask took over as the full-time Bruins netminder two seasons after the B’s captured their sixth Stanley Cup back in 2011. Since then, the Finland native has backstopped the black and gold to a President’s Trophy, an Eastern Conference title and brought them within two wins of a seventh Cup.

However, Bruins fans throughout New England have turned to Rask as the scapegoat for the Bruins’ shortcomings since his arrival. When he became the starter in the 2009-2010 season — before losing the job to Tim Thomas the following season — Rask was the anchor to a B’s team that choked against the Philadelphia Flyers after holding a seemingly insurmountable three games to no lead.

Many of the Bruins faithful, who are quick to condemn Rask for being the goaltender on that infamous team, tend to forget the other vital details to that series. The Bruins had a chance to close out that series in Game 4, when they gave Philly life by losing in overtime. In that same game, forward David Krejci was lost for the remainder of the season after fracturing his wrist during regulation. That offensive hole left gaping on the B’s top line was a significant reason for their epic collapse.

Let us also not forget the too many men on the ice call that the boneheaded Bruins took in Game 7, after letting the Flyers back in despite a 3-0 lead in the contest.

Additionally, Rask was a vital part of why the Bruins had made it to that round. After a stellar season between the pipes, Rask was instrumental in the B’s opening round series victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Tuukka matched, if not outdid, Ryan Miller, who was coming off of a phenomenal year in which he played goal for Team USA in the Olympics and was considered to be the best goalie in the world.

After a two-year stint in which Tim Thomas delivered Boston its first Cup since 1972, Rask returned to the starting job in the 2012-2013 season. In that year, Rask led the Bruins to their second Stanley Cup Finals in three years. In order to do so, Boston had to stage their own epic rally, also coming from behind by three goals in Game 7. However, this time their foe was the Toronto Maple Leafs and their high-powered offense that featured former Bruin Phil Kessel. Already down 4-1 in the game, Tuukka made a seemingly insignificant, yet astounding, toe-save on a Toronto breakaway that kept the Bruins in the contest. No more goals allowed and one wild comeback later, and the B’s survived.

After then dispatching the New York Rangers, the Bruins took on the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite the apparent uphill battle, the B’s quickly blew past the Pens back into the Finals.

In the Cup finals, the Bruins faced a mighty Chicago squad that had also won a Cup recently, back in 2010. Facing this impending dynasty, Tuukka and company watched as the Blackhawks won Game 1 and Game 4 in sudden-death overtimes — the first game needing three extra frames to do so.

Now I understand the anger surrounding the collapse. I share it. When you give up two goals in the final minutes in an elimination game in your own building, some of the blame does have to be heaped on Tuukka. However, by no means does he deserve to be scapegoated. The Bruins failed to recover after Chicago stole the momentum with the equalizer, and did not have a short enough of a memory to overcome the adversity facing them. Additionally, the B’s defense broke down in both the tying and the winning goals, something that a great goaltender can recover from, but should not be blamed for.

Then we had last season. For the second consecutive year, the Bruins were well in control of a playoff spot in mid-March, but managed to choke it away. In their last game of the season, the black and gold needed a win over an already-eliminated Ottawa team in order to sneak into the postseason. It was the biggest game of the season. And Rask did not dress.

Rask was struck with a bout of the stomach flu on the last day of the season, apparently severe enough that the netminder was unable to dress. Now we can all question his competitiveness — as we rightfully should — but, the blame should fall on the entirety of the Bruins for allowing the season to come down to the last game.

Recently, Rask has been criticized for his poor play down the stretch. While his numbers historically remain similar throughout the course of the season — despite popular belief — Rask has been noticeably off this spring. However, his tweaks and poor play are a result of overuse.

The Bruins throughout the season have had trouble finding a reliable backup goalie for Rask. It has been one of the main storylines this season for the B’s. And while few were worried when Rask was putting up Vezina-like numbers in the fall, he is now paying for the mistakes of management who failed to identify a serviceable No. 2. If you should blame anyone, it should be scouting and the Bruins upper management.

Tuukka takes more heat than any Bruin, and sometimes it is well-deserved. However, his critics often fail to realize the true problems plaguing the team during his times of inadequacy.

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