Blame Tuukka. Only a month into the new NHL season, it’s the thing to do again here in the Hub of Hockey, where Tuukka Rask, his record now a so-so 4-3-0, finds himself the Red Sox bullpen of the 2018-19 Bruins.
Can the Bruins beat Vancouver Thursday night? If not, blame Tuukka. Even if he stays on the bench all night, backing up Jaro Halak.
Will they make it to Thanksgiving parked in one of the predictive 16 playoff spots? If not, blame Tuukka.
Do they have the stuff to win the Stanley Cup? If not, you know what to do.
Rask, who posted a 2-1 win Monday night over Dallas after giving up a first-shot softy, is 31 now and more than five years beyond being the chosen goat for allowing the Blackhawks to beat the Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.
It was Rask’s first season as Boston’s No. 1, and he won 14 games in that postseason, leading all postseason goalies in saves (715) and save percentage (.940). But Chicago clinched in Game 6 at the Garden, and Rask, no doubt, was spotty on key shots. Blackhawks 3, Bruins 2. Blame Tuukka was born.
In a town with memories that go back even beyond Johnny Pesky holding the ball (World Series, Game 7, 1946), Rask remains the go-to guy when fans and talk-show hosts are compelled to find a reason why the Bruins don’t win every night. When Radek Faksa beat him with a cupcake off left wing Monday night, Mike from Winthrop and Eddie from Revere set their cells to Blame Tuukka auto-dial for Tuesday morn, ready for another day of Rip Rask radio.
Host: “OK, Mike, whatcha got?”
Mike: “Did you see it?! How many times do I have to say it — get Rask outta here!!”
The cudgel buddies, with pictures of Game 6 in 2013 plastered on their bathroom walls, have been emboldened this year because Halak, hired on over the summer as Rask’s relief, has been outstanding. They want Halak to be in net every night and Rask sent off to Saskatoon, after a public flogging in Saugus.
“Jaro’s played unbelievable,” Rask noted after his win over the Stars, in which he went 24 for 24 on saves after the softy. “You know, that’s how it goes. If you have a hot goalie like that, you have to let him play. I totally get it.”
Here is something few see about Rask: He answers every single time. The same can’t be said about another player in the Boston dressing room except Patrice Bergeron. Win, lose, or lousy, Rask is the first, second, or third to come out to answer to the media contingent. Home or away. Two points or too bad for prime time. Every time he plays.
If he’s had a good night, he’ll shrug and say, “Yeah, it was a good game.” If he stunk the joint out, he’ll shrug and say, “Shoulda had it. I sucked.” Pardon the language, but yeah, he’s blunt.
Look, it’s pretty obvious, at least at this hour, that Rask’s legacy won’t match the likes of Martin Brodeur (to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this week) or Dominik Hasek or perhaps even that of his one-time copilot, Tim Thomas, who turned his one enchanted postseason into golden legacy and lore. Quick facts: Thomas wore the Spoked B for a total 428 games; the next for Rask will be No. 522.
Some of the other relevant numbers adding to Rask’s bona fides, when comparing him with the 11 other current NHL tenders who’ve played 300 games since Rask became a No. 1 in 2012-13:
GAMES: 1. Rask, 354; 2. Braden Holtby, 350; Henrik Lundqvist, 348
WINS: 1. Holtby, 215; 2. Rask, 195; Marc-Andre Fleury, 184
GAA: 1. Rask, 2.28; Jonathan Quick, 2.29; Ben Bishop, 2.33
SAVE PCT.: 1. Sergei Bobrovsky, .922; 2. Rask, .921. Bishop, .920
So blame the guy all you want, but of the 11 other workhorses during his years as a starter, Blame Tuukka is first or second in all four categories.
Yet the battle cry among many fans and media now is that Rask’s splendid work the last six-plus years leaves him some distant second to Halak, now five weeks in Black-and-Gold threads. I could be wrong, but I doubt the cry around Holtby, Lundqvist, Bobrovsky, et al. would be nearly the same.
“I think his numbers are probably the best in the league,” said Rask, who continued to praise Halak Monday night following the win. “So you could play him until he gets gassed or has a bad game, but I don’t think that is the situation we want to be in.
“I think we want to have two good goalies playing at a high level and never lose a game. That’s kind of how we think about it, but obviously if you let the other guy sit on the bench for two or three weeks, it’s not beneficial for everybody.”
Look, memories are short, but if you remember nothing else, it should be that the season is long. Rask opened a lackluster 3-8-2 last season, then went a mesmerizing 17-0-2 from the end of November until mid-February. He then finished 12-6-1 into the playoffs, for a combined 29-6-3 once shaking off his bad start.
So blame away, because that’s what we do here, but at least know your numbers.
“I’d like to get off to a hot start every year and be the best goalie in the league,” Rask said. “When it doesn’t happen, you just have to try to get better, fix what you did wrong, figure it out, then get better as the season goes on.
“I’d rather take that than start hot and keep getting worse. I’d like to play great every game, every month.
“The past couple of years that hasn’t been the case, but . . . maybe next year.”
Maybe next year. Sounds a lot like how we sized up the Red Sox with their laughable bullpen headed into the 2018 playoffs. Roughly one month and one more duck boat parade gone by.