Tuukka Rask will be the Bruins’ starting netminder entering the playoffs. He has looked sharp lately, but before the first round begins next weekend, the ace needed to see more action.
They’d rather he didn’t see as much as he did Saturday.
The Bruins lost a wild matinee, 5-4, to the Rangers after allowing four goals in the third period, leaving coach Bruce Cassidy not mad, not disappointed, just a bit bewildered by his team’s finish.
“Completely surprised. Did not see this coming,” said Cassidy, who is now forced to correct some mistakes in the regular season’s final days.
The Bruins (32-15-7), roaring since the trade deadline and ostensibly primed for the postseason, loosened their ties after David Pastrnak’s goal gave them a 2-1 lead 21 seconds into the third. They had scored two in a row, the other coming from newly minted Seventh Player Award winner Nick Ritchie.
Did they think it was going to be easier?
“I guess so,” mused Ritchie. “That’s what it looked like, anyway. We got sloppy and stopped playing the way we were the last two games.”
That meant a rash of uncharacteristic plays, and a veteran bunch couldn’t get back on track from its mistakes.
Before Mika Zibanejad (two goals) scored the winner with 1:53 left, defenseman Mike Reilly sent a hard breakout rim around the boards, despite a lack of pressure. That seemed to baffle Cassidy, who watched Reilly in previous games make tape-to-tape passes or find his partner. The puck took a funny bounce off the half-wall before Craig Smith could grab it. From the slot, Zibanejad beat Rask clean over the glove.
“That’s just one goal,” Cassidy said. “Even before that, we gave up a four on one. Typically that’s not us, either. Some of the slot coverages … a lot of stuff that — I don’t even want to call it frustrating. It’s just perplexing, more than anything, how it all happened at once.”
Rask, who is likely to start on Monday against the Islanders, made several glittering stops, including a left-pad flash on Pavel Buchnevich that had denied the Rangers winger an empty net. While Rask’s numbers — 18 of 23 stops for a .783 save percentage — were his worst of the season, Cassidy spread the blame around the defensive zone.
“We were excellent in front of him for two periods,” Cassidy said of his club, which whipped the depleted Rangers on Thursday, 4-0. “In the third we were extremely loose against a good team that can make plays. And obviously he did not bail us out of any of those situations, either. Not good from the blue line in from everybody in the third period.
“Five really good defensive periods and it got away from us.”
The Bruins had plenty of scoring chances early. At five on five, they out-chanced the Rangers, 26-4, in the first two periods, per Natural Stat Trick, including a 12-1 edge in shot attempts in the slot and on the doorstep. Their edge in shot attempts: 53-14.
But they couldn’t dent Rangers third-stringer Keith Kinkaid (28 saves) until Ritchie stuffed in a rebound with 1:38 left in the second, erasing the visitors’ 1-0 lead (K’Andre Miller floater from the point). Pastrnak dunked a feed from Brad Marchand (goal, assist) to open the second, and the good times were rolling.
The Blueshirts’ run of three straight saw Zibanejad (5:22) finish the aforementioned four on one, No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafrenière (7:26) roof a backhand from in tight off an easy zone entry, and Vitali Kravtsov (9:36) hammer a one-timer past Rask.
“A tough start in the third period,” Pastrnak said. “They definitely came up hard and I felt we just wasn’t ready, which is, you know, unacceptable. We played a great 40 minutes. It was a tough lesson, but we’re going to learn and move on. We need to be 100 percent ready for next week.”
While the visitors — who were without rope-pullers Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Jacob Trouba — were pounding the Bruins, Kinkaid departed with an undisclosed injury. Marchand (14:08, power play) and Patrice Bergeron (18:39, with the net empty) beat Igor Shesterkin to make it a one-goal game, but the Rangers (26-23-6) departed Causeway Street and cruised into the offseason buoyant.
The Bruins aren’t in playoff mode quite yet.
“You have to trust your group to a certain extent to correct it,” Cassidy said. “This group typically has.”