BOSTON (CBS) – For the fourth time this season, Tuukka Rask was pulled from a Bruins game Thursday night.
Although the 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden might’ve been the worst team performance of all the games Rask didn’t finish, it definitely wasn’t his worst performance of the quartet.
But once Brian Gionta’s tip eluded the Finnish goaltender’s grasp at 11:54 of the second period to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead, Bruins coach Claude Julien gave Rask the hook. Rask, who started the night fourth in the NHL in save percentage, stopped 15 of 18 shots before being sent to the bench.
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After the game, Rask didn’t seem to have any idea why he had to watch the final 26 minutes of the loss that snapped the Bruins’ winning streak at four.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I felt okay,” Rask said.
Alexei Emelin opened the Canadiens’ scoring 2:16 into the game with a blast that past no fewer than three bodies. Max Pacioretty scored on a breakaway and then Gionta lit the lamp with a power play tip. Rask was far from the biggest culprit for the Bruins’ boondoggle against their fiercest rival.
Now sometimes a coach will pull his goalie in an effort to wake up the rest of his players. The efficiency of that strategy is debatable, but it’s become part of the fabric of hockey, like fighting when a teammate takes a big hit or waiting too long to pull the goalie for an extra attacker when one’s team is trying to tie the score.
If it takes a goalie that’s not playing too poorly being embarrassed to light a fire under your team, it’s probably not your night and you’d probably be best to not scapegoat the goalie. If skaters aren’t performing up to par, why not punish them?
However, coaches still do the goaltender “switcheroo” and if that was what Julien’s intention was, then you could somewhat understand the move considering his team had the fizzle of a three-day-old open can of Coke.
Julien, though, danced and dodged the question about pulling Rask almost as fancily as Pacioretty flew down the ice for his goal. “It’s a lot of everything,” the coach said. “That’s a decision that I make and I don’t feel I have to explain every time.”
When pressed on why he would pull his star goaltender after three goals allowed – one on a breakaway – when the Bruins’ struggles weren’t Rask’s fault, Julien went into full Colonel Jessep mode. By the end, we didn’t know why he pulled Rask or if he ordered the Code Red.
“I just explained that. I answered that question a while ago … I don’t think I have to explain myself, why I pulled the goalie,” Julien said. “Because this isn’t going to be one of those things where we’re going to make a big story out of a pulled goalie. Our team was poor tonight. So, maybe sometimes you pull the goalie for different reasons. I don’t think I have to explain everything to you guys for the reasons because there’s a lot of decisions that I make that are for inside that dressing room, not necessarily for everyone to share.”
Regardless of the reasons for pulling Rask, the move didn’t work. Chad Johnson gave up a goal on his first shot faced and the Bruins made Peter Budaj, the usual backup to Olympian Carey Price, look like Patrick Roy.
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It’s understandable that after winning four in a row and five of six Julien didn’t want anyone to point the finger at his goaltender. He stressed that this loss, maybe the Bruins’ worst of the year, was all about execution and skating. But the best way to make sure people don’t blame the goalie is to not pull him.
Anyway, Rask is known for his overflowing confidence and he’s been able to bounce back in the past. He’s 2-1 this season in his next start after getting pulled. Of course, those other times Julien pulled Rask were justified.
This was a different circumstance.
Both goaltenders have never expressed any issues with Julien’s communication with them in the past. So hopefully Julien will relay the reasoning he wouldn’t reveal to the public to Rask and things will revert to normal come Saturday, when the pushover Edmonton Oilers come to the Garden.
And next time, maybe it’ll be a skater or two that loses ice time rather than the goaltender.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.