With the Bruins exhibition game just six days away now and their first-round robin game in nine days, there has been a lot of discussion about the Bruins goaltending leading into the playoffs. Thankfully, it’s been for good reasons. Goaltending is one of the biggest strengths of the Bruins. Both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are outstanding goalies. Together, they form one of the (if not the) best tandems in the league. They were even awarded the William M. Jenning Trophy this season, which goes to the goaltending duo that combines to allow the fewest goals in the league for their team over the course of the season.
Rask is obviously still the starter, and he is definitely the better netminder. But, Halak is excellent as well, to the degree where he could be a starter on another team. This has led to discussions about whether or not Halak should see some playing time during the playoffs. So, should he? In my opinion, it’s definitely worth considering.
Halak’s Excellent Season Makes This a Possibility
The only reason the Bruins are even considering playing Halak in the playoffs is that he’s capable of it. He appeared in 31 games for the Bruins, over which he held a 0.919 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.39 goals-against average (GAA). Those are excellent numbers, especially for a backup goaltender.
Stats are important, but another big factor that’s considered when trying to determine whether or not a goalie will crack under the pressure of the playoffs is their performance in big regular-season games. During his time in Boston, Halak has shown that he can step up and win big games. Thanks to Rask, he hasn’t had to do it often, but when he has, he’s done it. He’s won big division and conference games against teams like Toronto and Pittsburgh. If he can step up to the plate in the regular season, he should be able to step up and play well in the postseason as well.
Halak Has Great Playoff Numbers, Albeit in a Limited Amount of Games
Over the course of his career, Halak has played in 30 career playoff games, over which he owns a 0.924 SV% and 2.39 GAA. Those are excellent numbers. Even though it’s not a big sample size, it at least shows that he’s been able to step up to the plate in the past.
Halak hasn’t played in the postseason since the 2014-15 season. While that could be concerning, remember, Halak has had a career resurgence since arriving in Boston in the 2018 offseason. He’s arguably a better goalie now than he was back in 2014-15. That should mean he’d do even better in the playoffs now than he did then, and that’d obviously be a great thing for the Bruins.
Rask Plays His Best When He’s Rested
It is well established over the years that Rask plays his best hockey when he’s well-rested. Having Halak has allowed him to do, as he’s played under 50 games both seasons Halak has been here. That’s nothing for a starting goalie. The Bruins have reaped the rewards of Rask’s light workload in the postseason. He’s been able to go on a tear and stay consistent these past two seasons, and particularly so last year, because he was not worked too hard in the regular season.
Halak hasn’t touched the ice for the Bruins during the playoffs. He hasn’t had to. But, this postseason is going to be so different, it might be smart to change that. Teams will be playing every other day after the qualifying round. The only multi-day breaks they’ll get is if they don’t play seven games. If the Bruins play long rounds, that’s a lot of work for Rask with not a lot rest.
Because of this, playing Halak for a game at the beginning of the round, especially in the first round or two, could be smart. It’d give Rask a three-day break, which would be great, especially if he’s nursing any minor injuries. If things for some reason started going poorly, even if it was really early in the game, Cassidy could just pull Halak and put Rask right in. But, I doubt that would be necessary, especially early on in the playoffs.
At the Very Least, Play Halak in the Round Robin
At the very least, the Bruins need to play Halak in the round-robin. Luckily, from what Cassidy had said, he plans on doing that. He’d frankly be stupid not to. If they don’t use him during the playoffs, Rask will be looking at upwards of 28 straight starts with not much of a break between games. That’s a lot for a goalie. At least in normal years, there’s several two day break each round when teams have to travel between cities. But, that’s something they have to do this year, so it’s all one-day breaks.
So, it’s stupid to play Rask for four games (including the exhibition) that don’t matter too much. Yes, the round-robin will determine seeding for the playoffs, and that’s important. But, it’s certainly not as important as actual playoff games. Plus, Halak is more than capable of winning games in the round-robin, and in my opinion, in the playoffs as well. So, it’d definitely be smart to play him in at least one of the games, if not more.
In short, playing Halak a few games in the playoffs early on could be really beneficial for the Bruins if they’re going to go on another deep run. It’ll give Rask a chance to rest, thus allowing him to play at his best. So, I’d like to see them give it a try. Even if it’s just one game in the first round, that’s one less game Rask has to play, and a three day break for him between games instead of just one. If things start going south, they can just pull Halak and put Rask in, and probably do so before it’s too late.
Therefore, I don’t see any reason not to give it a shot. It’s unlikely to hurt, and even if it only helps a little bit, it’ll be well worth it. The Bruins haven’t willingly used their backup goalie in the playoffs in a long time. But, as unusual this postseason is already going to be, it’s the perfect time to shake things up and try something new!
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
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