The Bruins knew things would be bumpy at first. They dropped the puck on 2015-16 amid roster turnover, system adjustments, and injuries to Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
But they believed that Tuukka Rask, the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy winner, would be great enough to steal them points they didn’t deserve.
Three games and zero points later, Rask has not been good, to say nothing of great.
After Monday’s 6-3 thumping by Tampa Bay at TD Garden, the Bruins’ most important player assumed the blame for their third straight loss.
“I couldn’t make the saves when we needed,” said Rask (0-3-0, 4.72 goals-against average, .846 save percentage). “Then let in one bad goal in the third period that sealed the deal. It was my bad.”
The Bruins last started with three straight losses in 1999. Literally, they couldn’t be in a worse spot.
They’ve watched the lamp turn red 16 times in three games, a rate that no team can overcome. At five on five, the Bruins have been outscored, 11-3. Opponents would find first-grade math harder than scoring on the Bruins. They are springing leaks everywhere. They’re running out of fingers to plug the holes.
“If you look at the big picture, 16 goals in three games, that’s not how we play,” David Krejci said. “I don’t even know what to say right now.”
Brad Marchand is out with a concussion. For every two scoring chances David Pastrnak creates, the 19-year-old gives up one with a turnover or missed assignment. Patrice Bergeron has no even-strength points. Jimmy Hayes has one shot on net in nine periods. Kevan Miller is fighting the puck while playing tougher competition than he’s used to seeing.
This is no time for Rask to bring down his teammates with leaky goaltending. But a third-period Jonathan Drouin goal — no traffic, sharp angle, standard velocity — slipped through Rask at 5:38, giving Tampa a 5-3 lead. NHL goalies do not let such shots go in.
“I’m pretty concerned with how many goals I’m letting in,” Rask said. “That’s my concern.”
It was the only goal Rask should have stopped. The other five were high-percentage strikes, especially the power-play one-timer that Steven Stamkos whistled past Rask’s ear at 15:17 of the second.
But when Rask is right, some or all of those pucks end up thudding into his equipment instead of the back of the net. He catches Brian Boyle’s first-period shot rather than seeing it snap over his glove. He squeezes the puck Boyle slipped past him instead of letting it dribble through his pads. Goals like Drouin’s are fantasy, not reality.
Rask is earning $7 million annually to be a game-changing goalie. When his misfiring team has needed a timely stop, Rask has not answered the call.
“It’s just making those big saves,” he said. “That’s what I need to do. I haven’t made a lot of them.”
Rask’s teammates are letting him hang like a scarf on a clothesline. The Bruins were up, 2-0, after first-period power-play goals by Krejci and Loui Eriksson.
But when Vladimir Namestnikov gained a clean entry and found Victor Hedman on the left side, the Bruins went into scramble mode. With Adam McQuaid, Max Talbot, and Joonas Kemppainen watching Hedman, Boyle advanced to the high slot without hindrance. Hedman slipped the puck through Talbot for Boyle, who scored Tampa’s first goal at 15:42.
Sixty-nine seconds later, with Bergeron in the box for goaltender interference, Ondrej Palat tied the game by redirecting a Tyler Johnson pass.
The Lightning pulled ahead after Pastrnak gave away the puck in the offensive zone at the end of a power play. Pastrnak tried to slow down Boyle. But the 6-foot-7-inch, 243-pound Boyle laughed off Pastrnak’s check and tucked the go-ahead puck through Rask at 4:48 of the second.
The Bruins tied the game at 12:20 of the second. Eriksson tipped a Krejci shot past Ben Bishop for his second power-play goal.
But the Lightning answered with the game-winner on a goal that Claude Julien disputed. Before Stamkos teed up his one-timer, a Johnson interference penalty on Chris Kelly went uncalled.
“The turning point was that fourth goal,” said the Bruins coach. “It should have ended up being a four-on-four with that interference call, and who knows what happens from there?”
Good teams can overcome blown calls. Three games in, the Bruins are not a good team.
“We’ve got to be better defensively with the amount of goals,” Julien said. “From the goaltender on out, defense, forwards coming back, we’ve just got to be better. It used to be our strength. Right now, it’s our weakness.”