The stinker Tuuka Rask authored in the Bruins’ regular season finale at TD Garden Saturday didn’t mean a thing in the standings and won’t sway the feelings of the lightning-rod goalie’s detractors and defenders.
Those who fall into the first camp will say that he was in typical spring form and setting the stage for a performance reminiscent of 2014, the year the Bruins won the President’s Cup and lost in seven games to the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs.
His advocates will point out that he had no incentive to play well, and when the playoffs start he’ll perform the way he did in a sweep of the favored Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals.
There is no in between, it seems, with Rask, a love-him or hate-him talent who keeps the puck out of the net with the best of them when he’s on one of his tears. Don’t forget, he produced a 19-game point streak starting Jan. 1 of this season and a 21-game point streak last season.
Rask’s highlight of the Bruins’ 6-3 loss to the Lightning yesterday came before the game, when he was honored on the ice with his wife and their two children and presented with a painting. Then he had a beauty of a kick save in a strong first period that ended with the Bruins on top.
In retrospect, that probably would have been a nice time to pull Rask, who surrendered five goals and watched from the bench as another was rifled into an empty net.
Rask illustrated the day’s absence of urgency during and after the game.
“I mean, it’s kind of like a pond hockey game,” Rask said. “Guys are just tossing the pucks. Try not to stress about it because it doesn’t mean anything.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, never one to shy from leaving the varnish off of his postgame comments, expressed a similar view.
“I don’t think he’s that concerned about it, other than he’s a professional and wants to play well every time he’s in the net,” Cassidy said. “We gave up two breakaway goals, so some of that you’ve got to be better in front of him.”
Even so, not a strong effort, but all that matters is that not a trace of it remains with Rask for the first-round playoff series against the Maple Leafs.
“I believe he’ll be ready to go Thursday and in good form, but that’s why we play the games,” Cassidy said. “We’ll find out.”
Two more periods similar to the first would have left no doubt that Rask is sharp and ready to go for the playoffs, but it didn’t happen. He did, however, play well in the last game that mattered, the 6-2 home-ice clincher in Columbus four days earlier.
In much the same way that an underrated player has been labeled as such for so long that he actually becomes overrated, it has become so fashionable to say that home ice doesn’t mean much in hockey that its impact actually has become underrated.
It’s all about having a hot goalie is a common explanation for why home ice is not important. Well, true, except that goalies typically would prefer to be at home. Even after Rask’s effort worthy of pond hockey in the finale, his goals-against average was better at home (2.32) than on the road (2.65). It must be comforting for Rask and the rest of the Bruins to know that if there is a Game 7 vs. the Leafs it will be in the Garden.
Rask’s pregame routine won’t be disrupted with any presentations before that one.
“I think it was great. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “Your family’s out there, you’re hugging your wife and kids right before the faceoff. So it’s kind of like mixed emotions, but I think it was a great gesture by the Bruins. It will be up on my wall somewhere. Great memories, for sure.”
As for the rest of the night, he needs to forget it.