BOSTON (CBS) — It’s getting to be that time of year, the time when every game seems like a Game 7, and the time of year where there’s no room for any mistakes to be made.
For the Bruins, this is coming to be a late March/early April tradition, as they’ve petered out at the end of their past two seasons and have missed out on the postseason. They’re hoping to avoid making it three straight years.
And there was some reason for hope on Saturday night, even after starting goaltender Tuukka Rask was announced to have a lower-body injury that wouldn’t allow him to play. In stepped Anton Khudobin, who gamely stopped 18 of the 19 Islanders shots on net in a 2-1 Bruins victory.
Though Rask is expected to be healthy in time for Tuesday night’s game vs. Nashville, CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty said that the Bruins should “ride the hot hand” in net.
“I would start Khudobin, and I would play him until he loses,” Haggerty said Monday on Toucher & Rich. “You ride the hot hand. He played well, the team played really well in front of him, they were blocking shots, he was battling to see the puck, fighting through traffic to make sure he could track the puck and stop it. He was providing some energy for that team with the way he was playing in net. Look, there’s a chaotic kind of wild and unpredictable nature to the way that he plays goaltender. A lot of people think that he’s reminiscent at times of Tim Thomas because of that. He’s not your typical butterfly, technique guy. He’s a little bit of a wild card when he’s there between the pipes.
“But I think there’s that competitiveness and that battling nature that he has is a good match sometimes in these big games. And I think the way that the team played in front of him and the way that he played, you continue with that goaltender until he loses.”
On the season, Rask has a .910 save percentage, 2.38 goals-against average and a 33-20-4 record. Khudobin has an .899 save percetnage, 2.60 GAA and a 6-5-1 record. But Haggerty noted that since the start of February, Khudobin has been the better goalie.
“He’s outplayed — when he’s been in there — Tuukka Rask since the All-Star Game. He’s got a .920 save percentage and he’s 5-0 since the All-Star Game, whereas Tuukka Rask is 8-8 and the save percentage is below .900 and the goals-against is close to 3,” Haggerty said. “[Rask] has had some good games in there — certainly, I thought he was pretty good against Ottawa and Toronto last week — but I think at this point in the year where points are so precious and games are so important, you put Khudobin in there until he loses and until he shows that Tuukka Rask should get back in. And maybe if Khudobin plays well in a few games in a row, that kind of lights a fire under Tuukka Rask and we see the best out of him down the stretch too, and you get the best of both worlds.”
Haggerty said the trend of Rask missing key games late in the year might put his future with the Bruins in jeopardy.
“For something like this to happen for the second year in a row, I think that continues to raise questions as to whether you can function with this goaltender as your No. 1 guy, as your franchise guy. And I think that’s a question that they’re going to have to confront and decide after the season’s over. And they may really ask themselves some hard questions about whether there needs to be a change in net,” Haggerty said.
Haggerty said that situation has yet to be resolved, but how Rask plays (or doesn’t play) over the coming weeks will go a long way in determining the solution. But Haggerty said that last year’s illness and this year’s injury has changed the picture of Rask in Boston significantly.
“The first time he’s unable to play because of an issue he’s played through all year is in the most important game of the year for the Bruins. That’s the issue,” he said. “It’s less about the reasoning and it’s more about, Tuukka Rask is the No. 1 goaltender for the Boston Bruins and he’s become wholly unreliable in big games, in the most important games for the team. … Something lower-body is definitely bothering him, but my thing is, he’s been able to play through this all year, and now all of a sudden it’s become an issue where he can’t play on Saturday in the biggest game of the year, and yet while they’re saying he can’t play, they fully expect him to be back at practice on Monday, business as usual. So when you’re the No. 1 goalie of the Bruins, you need to figure out a way to play in the most important game of the year, because what good is a No. 1 goalie if you can’t play in those huge games for a team?”
Listen to the entire interview below: