BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins got flat-out beaten on Thursday night in Sunrise, Fla., and as such, many folks in Bruins Land are upset. Whether it’s anger at the coach, the general manager or some of the underperforming players, there’s plenty of outrage to go around.
But for Mike Milbury, a man not necessarily known for for making the very best talent evaluations with regard to netminders, the goaltender is the one to blame.
Yes, following the Bruins’ 4-2 loss in Florida, one that puts Boston’s playoff chances on life support, Milbury ranted and raved on television that Tuukka Rask really “ticked” him off.
“They came out with some energy, and then it just dissipated. It dissipated in large part for me — and let me get this off my chest early — because Tuukka Rask sucked,” Milbury said on CSNNE. “I’m telling you. You’re in a big game, and here’s a guy that’s playing goal for you, you’ve given him all this money, and then I watched him after the game, and he didn’t say anything about ‘I stunk.’
“I’m still really ticked off about it. I want to see my goalie just concentrate on stopping pucks. He was doing an examination of what the Bruins were doing, how they were playing. How about you, Tuukka? You let one in on the short side, the go-ahead goal. You let one in five-hole. You could have prevented us from talking about [Dennis] Seidenberg having a tough night. [Rask] was a huge reason why they couldn’t summon the energy. Those are back-breaking goals, and your goalie’s getting paid that kind of money to be that kind of a leader.”
Milbury eloquently concluded: “Vezina Trophy, my ass. That was bad.”
Yeesh. That was a take so hot that even Michael Felger seemed a bit flabbergasted.
Where to begin?
You could examine each and every Florida goal from this one game and find that Rask was not perfect. I guess.
The first goal came when Aleksander Barkov carried in on a 2-on-1 and beat Rask from close range.
Not many goaltenders win that battle without having luck on their side.
The second goal Rask allowed came when Jonathan Huberdeau scored on a sneaky backhand shot from just north of the goal line.
Sometimes a highly skilled kid scores on the goaltender. It happens.
The Panthers’ third goal came on a bang-bang one-timer which was passed from behind the net and shot from here.
Never mind that the trio of Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron had no idea where Brad Boyes was and allowed him to streak to the goal mouth at full speed. And never mind that Boyes placed the puck perfectly inside the far post. Milbury blames Rask.
After Brad Marchand scored a beautiful goal to get the Bruins within one, Boston had life. But not for long, thanks to an ill-advised backhand, no-look touch pass to nobody by Seidenberg.
And that was that.
Milbury, by far the loudest voice in hockey media, should know better than to stomp his feet and blame the goalie. That’s been the response by some angry and misguided fans who see pucks enter nets and know nothing else but to blame the man wearing all the pads. That’s been happening in hockey since the beginning of time. But Milbury has run a real, live NHL organization, and his placing the target on Rask after such a night perhaps reveals why he hasn’t been on that side of the business in quite some time. (And also why his Islanders teams never won a playoff series in his decade at the helm. And why he took Rick DiPietro over Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik. Or why he traded away a Calder-winning defenseman in order to get 33 subpar performances — .893 save percentage, 3.35 GAA, 7-21-4 record — from Felix Potvin. Or why he traded away a 21-year-old Roberto Luongo.)
Simply put, Rask has been the Bruins’ best player this season. He has been asked to cover for glaring defensive deficiencies from one through six, he has been asked to routinely stop shots from highly dangerous areas, he has been asked to stop just about every single shootout attempt in order to give his team a chance to gain extra points, and he has been asked to play a record number of games for the historic franchise.
And the results? The results are pretty damn good. Overall, among netminders with at least 50 starts, he ranks seventh in save percentage (.922) and eighth in goals-against average (2.31). Ideally, you’d like him in the top five or top three in the league in those categories, but consider the circumstances.
Zdeno Chara missed roughly 25 percent of the season due to a knee injury, and since returning he has looked a long way from 100 percent. Dennis Seidenberg, recovering from a torn knee last year, has just not been able to keep up with anybody. Dougie Hamilton has probably been the team’s best defenseman, but still at just 21 years old, he’s prone to making mistakes in the defensive zone. That just comes with the territory of being a young defenseman in the NHL. Plus, he’s been out the last three weeks due to injury, and the team has certainly missed his presence.
That’s largely been the trio — Chara-Seidenberg-Hamilton — that’s been asked to stop the opponent’s best players, and the veterans have not been as good as their history and their salaries ($6.5 million annually for Chara; $4 million annually for Seidenberg) say they should be.
That’s largely why the Bruins have gone from being a plus-84 team last year to a plus-3 team this year. From last year to this year, Rask has allowed .27 more goals per game but his save percentage has only dropped by .008 points. That’s just 0.8 more goals per 100 shots faced. That’s actually a rather small increase, considering the loss of Johnny Boychuk and the hampered play of Chara and Seideinberg.
You’ll also remember that during the Bruins’ only sustained run of success this season, Rask went 7-1-3 with a 1.61 GAA and .949 save percentage in the month of January. He raised his game to an incredible level, and as a result, the Bruins had their best month of the season. The Bruins entered January a .500 hockey team at 19-15-4, and they entered February in the postseason mix at 27-16-7. They got into the race because of Tuukka Rask.
There’s also the fact that the Bruins went 4-9 in shootouts, despite Rask stopping 76.1 attempts. (That ranks fourth in the NHL among goalies who faced at least 30 shootout attempts.)
But, according to Milbury, it’s Rask’s job to make sure that we don’t talk about Seidenberg having a bad game. Because … well, I’m not entirely sure.
Milbury also took issue with Rask speaking to the media about some of the Bruins’ issues on the ice. Milbury would have preferred Rask stood at his locker and repeated, “I sucked, I sucked, I sucked,” all night long.
Well, for one, he’s done that before. He took blame last Saturday night for allowing a soft goal against Toronto, and last year in the playoffs, he didn’t pull any punches when ripping his own performance. He’s an accountable goaltender and always has been.
And secondly, Rask talked about the Bruins’ mishaps because he was asked a specific question. He does this every night. He typically offers a pretty thoughtful evaluation of where things went wrong. He’s not wrong for answering questions the way he does every night, win or lose.
Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion, Milbury included. But when you have a voice as loud as Milbury’s, is it asking too much to save the angry rants for the players who actually deserve it?