Last night, the Boston Bruins cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. The win was the team’s ninth straight. Of those nine wins, only two were one-goal victories, the rest looking pretty convincing. Boston is now on top of the Eastern Conference by five points, and with just 14 games remaining, a playoff spot is essentially guaranteed.
Now, with the Bruins firmly in possession of a favorable postseason berth, it’s time to start giving their marquee players a rest. There are plenty of obvious names that will need some breathers. Captain Zdeno Chara looked gassed at the end of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, something that played a hand in the Bruins’ eventual defeat. Johnny Boychuk is nursing an injury, so no need to rush him back either. The team has significant enough depth that they can survive letting these two and others have a chance to take some nights off.
One of the most important Boston players that the team needs to give a lot of rest, though, is goalie Tuukka Rask.
At surface level, this is pretty obvious. A team’s starting goalie is critical when it comes to playoff success. How many Stanley Cup Champions won it all thanks to incredible performances from their netminder? The Bruins also have a solid backup in Chad Johnson. He’s had some rough games here and there, but overall his stats indicate he’s more than reliable enough for the team to lean on in this final stretch.
The most important reason, though, is the fact that this is Rask’s first 82-game season as a full-time starter. Sure, he’s been the team’s top goalie in two separate playoff runs, but he became the starter midway through the 2010 season and last year was the lockout-shortened, 48-game campaign. Rask has already started 11 more games this year than any season before. The last thing the Bruins can afford is to attempt to go on a Stanley Cup run with a goalie who can barely stand come mid-May.
Luckily for Boston, their aforementioned place in the standings means there really isn’t much left to play for this season. They’re five points up on the second place Pittsburgh Penguins, and barring a major tumble in these final weeks, you have to believe the Bruins are looking at a two seed at the absolute lowest. Home ice advantage is pretty much locked up, so why would you keep throwing Rask out to start games that won’t significantly impact their playoff spot?
Looking at Boston’s remaining schedule, you’ll find more evidence that Johnson should get the majority of the starts from here on out. There are a few big games, such as the series finale with the rival Montreal Canadiens, as well as a bout with the Chicago Blackhawks. Rask is almost a sure thing to start those nights. However, there are also plenty of throwaway games against teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils. Putting Rask in net for those is completely unnecessary. Counting tonight, the Bruins also have five more sets of back-to-back games as well.
Obviously, the team won’t just shut down Rask for the rest of the year. They don’t want him to be rusty at the start of the postseason. Still, though, there’s no need to give him the lion’s share of the remaining games. It would make all the sense in the world to give him, say, five to six starts from here on out.
The Bruins came so close to bringing home the Stanley Cup last June, so they’re no doubt coming into this postseason looking to settle unfinished business. To do so, they’ll need their top goalie to be well-rested and ready to go. Boston is a lock for a high seed, so it’s time to reward Rask for getting them there and give him a chance to catch his breath.