By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A staple of the Bruce Cassidy coaching tenure in Boston is a complete lack of hesitancy when it comes to pushing buttons. And after a gut-punch of a loss in Game 2 against the Islanders, it seemed like the Bruins’ head coach was pushing away with regard to goaltender Tuukka Rask.
After Rask allowed four goals on 39 shots — including the overtime winner on a Casey Cizikas breakaway — Cassidy was asked if Rask was playing through an injury and was asked to assess how Rask “gutted it out” in the third period and overtime.
Cassidy downplayed the impact of any potential injury, and also got a little critical.
“I just didn’t think he tracked pucks as well tonight,” Cassidy said of Rask.
Later, he added: “As far as Tuukka goes, they finished a breakaway at the end. They were one save better than us. … We definitely had our looks in the overtime, we just didn’t convert. And they did. That’s how overtimes usually come to an end.”
Rask got up slowly after making a save attempt on a second period breakaway attempt by Mathew Barzal, and he appeared to be laboring after that moment. But Cassidy suggested that there was no physical issue … and he also gave a brief tire pump of backup goaltender Jeremy Swayman.
“Well he finished the game, so I assume he’s OK,” Cassidy said. “If he wasn’t, he would’ve told us. We have a very capable backup. So I assume he’s fine.”
The comments, to say the least, are interesting.
That’s because, for one, it’s not as if Rask was beaten multiple times due to poor tracking. He made a number of high-level, high-difficulty saves, and even stood tall against multiple redirect attempts from the front of the net. The first goal bounced off Jeremy Lauzon’s skate (on a New York power play) …
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) June 1, 2021
… the second goal came when he let a jam attempt at the post leak through his body …
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) June 1, 2021
… and the third goal came on a bang-bang play after a pass crossed Rask’s crease and ended up on the tape of an uncovered J.G. Pageau (on a New York power play).
That's how you get the job done on the PP.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) June 1, 2021
The overtime goal, of course, came on a breakaway and involved Cizikas firing a good shot just inside the post.
CASEY CIZIKAS! 🚨
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) June 1, 2021
Rask stopped all 13 Islanders shots in the third period, as the Bruins rallied from a 3-1 deficit, and made eight saves in overtime before allowing the game-winner. He’s now 5-2 this postseason with a .930 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average.
The “very capable backup” Cassidy alluded to in his postgame comment is the rookie Swayman, who shined in his 10 starts for Boston this year, going 7-3-0 with a .945 save percentage, 1.50 GAA, and a pair of shutouts. One of those two shutouts came against the Islanders, notably. But Swayman obviously has zero playoff experience in his young career.
Certainly, Rask — like any goaltender — has allowed bad goals before. None of the ones on Monday night, save for maybe the second one, would really fall into that category. And in terms of saves, the Islanders took six shots from the high danger area but scored on just one of those attempts, per Natural Stat Trick. In terms of “tracking” pucks, Rask stopped all 16 low danger shots he faced, and he stopped six of seven medium danger shots faced. Rask still has a .945 even strength save percentage this playoffs, and he stopped 30 of 32 shots faced at even strength on Monday, so the performance wasn’t really atypical overall.
Cassidy did reference some unlucky bounces, but he didn’t make even a passing mention of the saves Rask did make, which made the entirety of his commentary seem to have been … purposeful.
Any team and coach would like the goaltender to come up with a stop on that breakaway, but of course, a perfect shot is occasionally going to beat the netminder in such a scenario. That’s why Cassidy’s postgame comments stand out and feel more like a motivational tactic than actual criticism.
At the very least, given the way this city loves to talk about the goaltender at all times, Cassidy ensured that Rask will be a hot topic in town all week, as the teams wait an extra day to play Game 3 on Thursday.