PITTSBURGH — The Bruins need Tuukka Rask to fine-tune his game before the playoffs. But rookie Jeremy Swayman is likely to see at least a start or two.
An upper-body ailment limited Rask, the veteran ace, to one period in a five-week span in March and early April. Depending on his health, he’ll start the bulk of Boston’s eight remaining games, which come over a span of 13 days beginning Thursday against the Sabres.
The most clear-cut opportunities for someone else: a pair of back-to-backs in the final two weeks. The Bruins visit the Devils on May 3 and 4. They host the Islanders (May 10) and visit the Capitals (May 11) to end the regular season.
Swayman, at present, is the next man up.
The first-year pro out of Maine (.946 save percentage, 1.57 goals against average, 5-2-0 record in seven starts) has earned a shot to replace Jaroslav Halak (.909, 2.45, 9-6-3 in 18 games, 16 of them starts). The latter, who dressed as Rask’s backup on Tuesday, has started once this month, partly because of his two-week battle with COVID.
“There’s no doubt he’s the one who’s sort of been pushed out a little,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of Halak, who signed a one-year, $2.25 million extension last May. “Some of that was by circumstance, right? There was an injury to Tuukka and Jaro went into COVID [protocol]. So, opportunity for others, and Swayman’s grabbed that.”
Were it the middle of the year, Cassidy reasoned, the 35-year-old veteran would have more of a chance to find his game.
“Unfortunately for Jaro, he’s the one that’s losing an opportunity to get back in there,” Cassidy said. “Doesn’t mean he won’t.”
Jake DeBrusk’s tough season continued.
The fourth-year winger found himself munching popcorn for the second time this year.
“We just need a higher compete level,” Cassidy said. “It’s not about individual stats. You need to help this team win.
Leading up to the healthy scratch, DeBrusk went nine games without a goal. Since returning on April 5 from his bout with COVID, he has one goal and three assists in 13 games.
“At this time of the year, that has to be secondary,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk’s output (4-7—11 in 34 games). “Playing for the crest on the front, second effort and compete level needs to be higher for him. He’s not alone. There’s a few others.
“We’re in the home stretch here. We need whatever it takes.”
Trent Frederic, the rough-and-tumble 23-year-old, was playing his first game since April 6. He finished the game on the third line, with winger Charlie Coyle and center Sean Kuraly. Afterward Cassidy generally liked what he saw, noting that he’ll work with Frederic to clean up his skating routes. “It’s a big line. Something we’ve tried to build here,” Cassidy said. “The eye test told me he played well for us.”
The Bruins don’t rely on Frederic (4-1—5 in 37 games) for offensive touch, but they could use his brand of irritating physicality. It clearly annoyed Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on Tuesday.
“He’s just got to play his game and do his part,” Cassidy said before puck drop. “Get the motor going early. Just make sure you have some pace to your game. I think the rest will fall into place. We’ll coach him up as we go.”
A hit parade
The Bruins outhit the Penguins, 50-25. They also landed 31 of their 47 shot attempts, and blocked 21 of the Penguins’ 42 … Defenseman Kevan Miller skated 17:41 after a day off to rest his knee … Connor Clifton, a healthy scratch the last two games, replaced Steven Kampfer on the back end. Clifton was helped off the ice after taking a shot off his left knee with 4:36 left in the first, but didn’t miss a shift ... Brad Marchand, seen chuckling with old pal Sidney Crosby during a scrum behind the Bruins’ net, had a better night than his fellow Nova Scotian. The Penguins captain was minus-3, landed 0 of his 5 shot attempts, and lost 8 of 11 draws (73 percent) to Patrice Bergeron in the defensive zone (10 of 17 overall) … Jeremy Lauzon (six hits, four blocks) scored a win in a third-period scrap with Teddy Blueger, after the two tangled in the Bruins’ zone … Over two games in Pittsburgh, the Bruins went 75:41 in without earning a power play. They finally got a call in the second period, after three Pens PPs … In the first, Marchand was dumped behind the play, leaving him in the zone as his linemates went the other way. He gave it to referee Jean Hebert all the way to the bench. Assistant coach Joe Sacco gave him a whack on the shoulder to cool it … The ice at PPG seemed to be in good condition, despite the fact it was 80-plus degrees in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.