Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy reiterated Monday that he has no regrets about playing goaltender Tuukka Rask late in the second-round series against the Islanders, when the Bruins were on the ropes and the netminder’s longstanding hip injury left him compromised.
“Obviously Tuukka has acknowledged that he was playing hurt,” Cassidy said during a 27-minute Zoom call with local reporters. “He met with us every day — medical staff, myself, [assistant coach] Goalie Bob [Essensa] — to go through his status, particularly in the playoffs. He played Game 1 with it against Washington right through Game 6 in New York.”
The goalie, Cassidy said, maintained that he was well enough to stop pucks. Rask was clearly fighting a lack of mobility as he was pulled in Game 5 and the Bruins were blown out in the decisive Game 6. In the final two games of the series, he allowed eight goals on 43 shots (.814).
“It was the same injury, the same player dealing with it,” Cassidy said. “We just got different results in the second round. Some of that is team-oriented in both the first and the second round. You don’t put everything on the goalie when you lose, just like you don’t when you win.
“We were never going to run out a player that wasn’t fit to play. He regularly told us he was ready to go.”
Rask, who is set to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, said Friday that he was first injured in last year’s first-round series against Carolina. The Bruins hoped to limit him to two games per week. During the two series against the Capitals and Islanders, he made 11 starts in 26 days, with a five-day break between rounds.
Explaining the decision to lift Rask after two periods of Game 5 against the Islanders, Cassidy said he felt the goalie wasn’t sharp (four goals on 16 shots), and Rask reported to Essensa he was “lacking some energy.” Jeremy Swayman got the call for the third period.
Incidentally, the corresponding episode of ESPN’s “Quest for the Cup” behind-the-scenes series made no mention of Rask’s injury. The Bruins, ESPN’s narrator said, decided to “cut their losses” and bring in Swayman with Rask “off his game.”
Cameras also showed Cassidy, after the first intermission of Game 5, in full confidence. “We’re the way better team,” Cassidy told his group in the dressing room. “They can’t play with us.”
Rask reported feeling better before Game 6, and was able to perform his game-day routine. Cassidy, after consulting with all parties and the player leadership group (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci among them), believed Rask was a better option than the inexperienced Swayman, who hadn’t started a game in nearly four weeks.
“No regrets on that,” Cassidy said. “We felt he gave us the best chance to win. It didn’t work out that way.”
Cassidy liked what he saw from Rask throughout the playoffs, other than Game 5 (four goals on 16 shots in 40:00 of work). He believed his No. 1 was fit for duty. The decision, he said, was “more about Tuukka, less about Swayman.”
Cassidy said shutting down Rask when his hip injury became a back injury in March was not part of the discussion, though the team was encouraged by the work of Swayman and Dan Vladar, two netminders who are likely to vie for the net this fall, unless the Bruins bring in veteran help. Unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak, who lost his backup job partly because he caught COVID-19, is unlikely to return.
“Typically, it’s the player’s decision” to keep playing, Cassidy said. “Obviously, sometimes second opinions come into play with all of that.
“With Tuukka, it was a matter of, let’s get him some rest, get him his point-of-care treatments, put his schedule together for maintenance, for him. Obviously, check with the individual on a daily basis to see how he’s progressing. You hope that’s enough to keep him ready to play.”
Cassidy to meet with DeBrusk after difficult campaign
Cassidy said he has not conducted his exit meeting with Jake DeBrusk because things are still “too raw” after the winger’s frustrating season. They had plenty of in-season talks, but getting to the root of issues is difficult when there’s always a next game on the schedule, said the coach.
DeBrusk had 5 goals and 14 points in 41 games, the lowest output of his four-year career. He was a healthy scratch three times in the regular season, and missed 12 games with injuries. In the playoffs, he went without a point in seven of his final eight games, and was “DNP-coach’s decision” in Game 5 against the Islanders.
Cassidy plans to meet with DeBrusk this week to “find some common ground on where you see yourself fitting into this lineup, and where I feel you need to be better, and see if we can sort through some of the stuff,” he said. “It’s up to me to dig a little deeper with him.”
Hall pondering return
Taylor Hall has said he wants to return to the Bruins, and even revealed he may be willing to take a discount to stay here. That’s music to Cassidy’s ears, despite a tailing off toward the end of the second round. Hall, who had not advanced that far in his career, scored three goals in his first six playoff games in Black and Gold, but was less of a factor in his final three (0-0—0).
“I think the next playoffs he’s in, he’ll be better prepared for it,” Cassidy said. “I hope it’s with the Boston Bruins. He did a good job for us. He’s a good player, he’s a good person. He works hard.
“I think he knows what he wants out of his career now. He’s been in a few different places. He’s made some money. Hopefully both sides can make it work.”
Bruins sign Jesper Frödén
The Bruins announced the signing of Jesper Frödén, a right winger from the Swedish Hockey League.
The 26-year-old, listed at 5 feet 10 inches and 176 pounds, produced a 22-18—40 line in 52 games for Skellefteå and 3-1—4 for Sweden at the recent World Championships in Latvia.
In a statement, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney called him a “highly productive, competitive and a smart two-way player” who will compete for a roster spot. He signed a one-year deal for $842,500.
Frödén (approximate pronounciation: “fruh-DEEyen”) was the SHL rookie of the year in 2020. He spent six seasons in Sweden’s second division before that. As a teenager with Södertälje (2012-14), he was teammates with David Pastrnak, who is two years his junior.