– October 7, 2015:  Pre-season Prediction – Team MVP:  Tuukka Rask – Has to be Tuukka.  He’ll determine if they (the Bruins) make the playoffs.  Much like Carey Price carried a massive load for Montreal last year to get them where they were, Tuukka will have a similar job.  Although, he won’t have to carry them as much as Price did the Habs.  But if Rask is playing up to his Vezina Trophy ability it will be the difference maker the Bruins need.  He can steal them some games for a post season push, and if they get in it’s because he’s the MVP.

There is was.  Just a day before the Bruins kicked off their season with an embarrassing blowout home loss to the Winnipeg Jets we had laid out the biggest factor in determining whether Boston would make the post season or not.  Tuukka Rask had to be the absolute team MVP to make it happen.  Unfortunately, he was not.  Brad Marchand was.  And as much as Marchand’s scoring kept the Bruins chugging along for stretches, it’s still not enough individually to win those extra 2-3 crucial games.  Goaltending would have got it done.

So here is the review of the Bruins goaltending this season.

The Expectations:  I think it’s safe to say the expectation this year was that Tuukka Rask would be his Vezina winning self and Jonas Gustavsson would be a dependable backup option in net that the Bruins had sorely lacked last season.  Tuukka would be in his usual .922 to .930 save percentage range with a goals-against average around 2.00.  That would be enough to carry the Bruins to a 36-39 win range and get them in the post season when you add in a .500 record coming from Gustavsson on top of Rask’s wins.

The Results:  Statistically speaking, Tuukka Rask fell pretty short of his high standard numbers and expectations.  He finished the season with a .915 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average.  Those are the worst numbers of his career since you really can’t count his 4-game stint/debut with the B’s back in 2007-2008.  He also gave up 157 goals this season which was a career high and put him 3rd in the league in that category.  But to be fair and put into proper perspective, Pekka Rinne allowed 161 goals, Henrik Lundqvist allowed just one less than Tuukka with 156, and Jonathan Quick allowed 149 for the Stanley Cup favorite Los Angeles Kings.  Sometimes you have to take the stats with a grain a salt.  Except save percentage.  That stat you can’t overlook.  Over the final five must-win games Tuukka’s save percentage was a dreadful 0.869 before missing the final game against Ottawa with an illness.

Jonas Gustavsson ended up being exactly what the Bruins needed in a backup.  He was just over .500, posting 11 wins, and held down standard backup goalie stats with a .907 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against.  In many of his backup appearances you could argue he saved the day, or kept the Bruins in it long enough to get a win.  He gets a pass on the odd clunker he had.  He is who he is.

The Analysis:  If we want to put it simply; down the stretch the Bruins needed to win important games to grab a playoff spot and in most cases as a team Boston rolled over for the opposition.  When that happened the only thing you can hope for is that your goalie comes up huge and steals you a game you had no business winning.  Or, you buy your team a period to alleviate a slow start.  That didn’t happen when it mattered most.

Most nights the Bruins were down a goal early and constantly chasing the scoreboard.  You can’t blame the goalie for not going out and scoring the first goal of the game.  But, making $7 million dollars a year, with a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and Vezina in his back pocket should be enough ingredients for Tuukka to shut the door more often than not when things are going bad.  Too often he was beat when a timely save was needed from an all-world goalie.

Tuukka’s slow start in October was concerning to most, but once he got going he actually was the team MVP for a long stretch while Brad Marchand started to heat up.  It was just in the last 18-20 games he became very average.

Where I cut Tuukka some slack in terms of the entire seasons body of work is that he was hung out to dry a lot.  The team in front of him was far more inexperienced and weaker defensively than any version of a Bruins team that Tuukka had backstopped before.  And it showed.  I remember distinctly Rask absolutely standing on his head up in Montreal for during a mid-season game until Loui Eriksson scored on a breakaway and shell shocked the Habs into giving up a Landon Ferraro snipe just moments later.  He did have plenty of those moments throughout the season where you saw just how good Tuukka is.  But he needed to be that guy in the final few games, even just one game (New Jersey?  Carolina?) to just shut the door, but he wasn’t.  It was a combination of his untimely play, packaged with less than average defense in front of him.  It was a terrible combination.

The Forecast:  Tuukka Rask isn’t going anywhere and he shouldn’t.  He is one of the best goalies in the world.  I love his “call it how it is” open attitude and he just seems like a really great guy that would be great in the locker room.  Jonas Gustavsson will most likely be gone as Malcolm Subban should be ready to be an NHL goalie/backup option.  If the blue line can be shored up Tuukka will be back to posting near career high numbers.  But, I don’t think he has been a product of the personnel in front of him even when the Bruins were a much better team either.  He’s usually fantastic in his own right.  I just think when backstopping that much inconsistent and poor play in front of him this season it made him vulnerable, his confidence may have been shaken a touch, and every mistake he made was magnified.  Even Brayden Holtby was statistically more average than Tuukka in the second half of the season and no one noticed because of his first round pick loaded team in front of him.  Still, could and should Tuukka have been better?  Yes.  Are we surprised he couldn’t steal one down the stretch?  Yes.  But there were problems everywhere on the ice.

Tuukka Rask will be back next season and numbers-wise we should see a reset back to the norm.  It’ll be that much better for him if the roster is turned over enough to get legit defensive help.  As fans and followers of the club we’re all just wondering, and waiting to see, if the Bruins are going to go full rebuild or try to fix it on the fly like they tried this year.  Either way, Tuukka has said he wants to be a part of it and the Bruins should be thankful for that.  It’d be a hell of a lot worse without him.