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Odds are not in favor of a team that pulls goalie for extra skater, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy says why not try it?

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy likes to swap in a big body like Nick Ritchie (above) when he pulls Tuukka Rask for an extra skater in a six-on-five situation.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Stanley Cup playoffs rarely lack for drama, the fun often starting from the drop of the opening faceoff. The sweet tension can ratchet even a notch or two higher when a team in arrears yanks its goalie for an extra skater in hot pursuit of a goal.

The seconds tick away … a team needs a goal to avoid a loss or possibly stave off postseason elimination … the goalie hotfoots it toward the bench … the extra attacker pops over the boards … six skaters dash frantically around the opposition’s net, firing shots, scrambling for rebounds, desperate for the tying goal.


Football has its Hail Mary play, a long pass into the end zone in hopes of a touchdown as the clock winds down toward 00:00. Hockey’s version is to try to create holy hell around the goalie, sometimes for a couple of minutes, also with 00:00 looming.

“Certainly gives you life if you’re able to tie a game late,” mused coach Bruce Cassidy, prior to the Bruins taking on the Islanders Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum in Game 4 of their second-round series. “I know that.”

In their eight playoff games prior to Saturday, the Bruins did not yank their goaltender for the late extra skater — in part a reflection of their 6-2 record and an aggregate lead time of 127:01 vs. 70:56. They’ve been out front a lot and winning, negating the need for 911 calls to roll out the rescue trucks.

They needed it Saturday, and the Islanders promptly scored twice to cap a 4-1 win.

In 58 playoff games played this season, teams on the attack with their goalie pulled have scored only three times. The opposition has scored 21, including the two the Islanders scored into an empty net Saturday with Tuukka Rask pulled for the 6-on-5 advantage.


That makes for a poor 1:7 ratio for teams like the Bruins were, desperate to come up with the equalizer.

During Cassidy’s tenure behind their bench in the playoffs, the Bruins have been outscored, 7-2, at 6-on-5.

Over the last three playoff seasons, to provide some comparison, the ratios have varied significantly:

2020 — 21 goals for the attacking team vs. 34 for the defending team. Approximate ratio, 2:3.

2019 — Eight goals vs. 31 goals. Approximate ratio, 1:4.

2018 — Seven goals vs. 33 goals. Approximate ratio, 1:5.

In the postseason, the added drama around those desperation goals is that they can prove the difference between a season ending, or a season extended, a team moving on to another series, or even winning the Cup.

The Bruins fell two wins short of the Cup in 2013, but one of their most dramatic wins in postseason history, the Game 7 trimming of Toronto on May 13 that season, came with Tuukka Rask swapped out for an extra skater.

The Bruins trailed, 4-3, as the clock ticked down at the Garden, Claude Julien opting to hook Rask to attack with Zdeno Chara the lone defenseman behind Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Jaromir Jagr. With 51 seconds to go, with help from Krejci and Jagr, Bergeron canned the equalizer.

Causeway went crazy, and then crazier still when Bergeron banged the winner out of the reach of a scrambling James Reimer with 6:05 gone in OT. Earlier, the Bruins had fallen behind, 4-1, at the 5:29 mark of the third. It was the comeback of all comebacks.


“Bergeron! Bergeron! Bergeron!” hollered Dave Goucher in the radio broadcast booth as teammates swarmed Bergeron along the boards. “And the Bruins win the series!”

“To me, the key is to hunt the puck and kind of have that five-on-five mentality,” Bergeron said Saturday morning when asked about six-on-five strategy. “With the extra skater, you can actually be very aggressive and get on that puck and pounce on loose pucks. To me, that is really the key to a successful six on five — and moving the puck quickly.”

In the 56 games this postseason, the 16 teams combined for 52:44 of six-on-five play. Most of those minutes, but not all, came late in the third period, with teams down by a goal. In some cases, usually in very short spans, clubs accrued six-on-five time during delayed penalties. Overall, six-on-five time this postseason has averaged more than one minute per game.

The Bruins, in their 63 playoff games with Cassidy behind the bench headed into Game 4 vs. the Islanders, were outscored, 5-2, since the start of the 2017 playoffs in instances with their goalie pulled.

The teams with the most six-on-five goals scored over that stretch: Colorado, St. Louis, and Toronto (five each). The clubs burned most frequently for empty-netters: Tampa Bay (12), St. Louis and Nashville (11 each).

Cassidy’s approach, as he noted during his Zoom session after Saturday’s morning skate, is to add a net-front player to his No. 1 power-play unit. These days, that means swapping out Rask for Nick Ritchie or Charlie Coyle, giving the Bruins a big body to park at the top of the crease. It’s another stick on the doorstep, and another obstacle ideally to take away the goalie’s line of sight.


The rest of the unit typically will include Charlie McAvoy at the point with Krejci helping out up high, and top-liners Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Bergeron filling their various roles down low.

“So that frees up Marchy to move around a little more low,” said Cassidy, noting the attack is a variation of his more standard 1-3-1 power-play approach. “A couple of adjustments, but Bergy stays in the bumper, Pasta stays in the elbow, and we have two guys up top to help on clear [attempts] and to stretch teams out — it’s a good support valve. Then we’ll rotate our plays from there.”

While noting that he’s well aware “the odds aren’t great with it,” Cassidy, like all coaches, keeps the six on five tucked in his first-aid kit, or perhaps as his court-of-last-resort remedy.

“I mean, why not do it, right?” he said. “You’ve got nothing to lose. Does it matter, especially in the playoffs, [whether] you lose by one, two or three goals? A loss is a loss.”

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at