With Tuukka Rask behind them, Bruins can focus on figuring out opposing goalies
RALEIGH, N.C. — We are on a Conn Smythe watch with Tuukka Rask.
Only Tim Thomas (2011) and Rask (2013) have had better save percentages to this point in a Bruins postseason run than Rask’s current .937 clip. The uniquely brilliant Thomas and a 26-year-old Rask each posted .940 marks in those years. Both performances sent the Bruins to the Stanley Cup final. Thomas, who lifted the Cup in 2011, won the Conn Smythe, which is awarded to the playoff MVP.
While Rask, 32, is racing laps in a souped-up stock car, his Carolina counterparts are rumbling along in a beater stolen from a demolition derby. Neither Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy nor his charges knew Monday whether Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney would take the wheel for the Hurricanes in Game 3 on Tuesday.
Boston was ready for either.
Mrazek, 27, has been leaking oil, surrendering 10 goals while on the ice in the first two games of this series. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour didn’t say Monday whether he would call 35-year-old McElhinney out of the garage.
The well-traveled McElhinney, playing for his seventh team, has won all three of his appearances this postseason and saved 71 of 75 shots (.947). With Mrazek hurt in Game 1 of the second round against the Islanders, McElhinney drove the Hurricanes the rest of the way.
Cassidy leans on assistant Bob Essensa, the team’s goalie coach since 2003, for a scouting report before every round. Essensa prepared one for Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, whose tendencies Bruins shooters knew well after seeing him in Atlantic Division play. Essensa did the same for Columbus’s Sergei Bobrovsky, then drew from the Bobrovsky presentation for his spiel on the similarly mobile Mrazek.
They haven’t seen a presentation on the reserved, positionally sound McElhinney, who faced them in Game 2 of last year’s first-round series with Toronto, when he came on in relief during a 7-3 Bruins rout and allowed four goals on 23 shots.
But they didn’t lack for confidence.
“Probably in every meeting everyone’s going to say to get bodies and pucks to the net, because that’s the cliche we use in hockey,” checking-line forward Chris Wagner said. “Maybe we’ll take a look tomorrow,” with help from, “our super-secret scouts, or whoever was watching today’s practice.”
Wagner, who scored a career-high 12 times in the regular season, credited “Goalie Bob” and his scouting bonanza for his breakaway finish on Mrazek in Game 1. Essensa told him he might be able to get Mrazek to move laterally, then slide the puck between his pads. He was right. So Essensa deserves a small credit, at least, for the Bruins tying a 31-year-old franchise record with 19 playoff goal-scorers.
A film-room session with Essensa includes the essentials — hot and cold spots for shooters, where rebounds go, how the goalie deals with traffic — and some extra touches.
“They’re engaged with it, because he does an entertaining production,” Cassidy said. “He has the whole title and the music in the background. It’s like the start of a movie. Right away, it grabs your attention.”
From there, Cassidy said, players may or may not get something out of it. Established scorers do not like to overthink with the puck on their sticks.
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The only Bruins regular without a postseason goal is defense-first blue liner Brandon Carlo. He wasn’t sure he could be helped.
“The whole goal-scoring thing isn’t my forte,” he said. “Maybe I’ll slide an empty-netter in. We’ll see.”
A goal from Carlo would be some extra sauce on the Bruins’ brisket, given how well he has defended. He has drawn the opposition’s top scorers — good night, Auston Matthews and Artemi Panarin — and shut them down. One of the reasons for the Bruins’ lopsided Game 2 win was Carlo’s effort on the penalty kill.
He killed 5:41 of the Bruins’ eight minutes in penalties, with regular partner Zdeno Chara in the box for two minutes and top forward Patrice Bergeron in the bin for double that. The Bruins killed all four, lifting their playoff percentage to 84.1 (best among the NHL’s remaining quartet). Carolina’s power play is 5 for 45 (11.1 percent), worst among remaining teams.
Through two games, Carlo said, the Bruins have checked all the PK boxes: They are squashing rush entries, smartly pressuring miscues, and haven’t allowed Carolina to set up if they get in the zone.
“Right now the biggest thing we’re giving up are shots from the point,” Carlo said, “and Tuukka’s doing really well with seeing those.”
Wagner called Carlo “a horse all playoffs,” and “a rock for us.” Third-line center Charlie Coyle laughed when someone mentioned his lack of goal-output.
“It’s going to come,” he said. “Brandon Carlo, in my opinion, has been one of our best players . . . He’s been my favorite player to watch. I tell him every game. He’s been a beast this whole playoffs.”
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Cassidy made up some of Carlo’s even-strength time in Game 2 by using rookie Connor Clifton for a playoff-high 19:28, some 19:03 of which came at 5-on-5. Clifton scored his first NHL goal after a confident rush. No reason he shouldn’t stay in the lineup going forward. “When you’re coming into the National Hockey League, there’s a lot of nerves, but you’re excited,” he said before Game 1. “You just want to show what you can do.” . . . The Hurricanes are 5-0 at PNC Arena this postseason. The Bruins are 4-2 on the road, and expecting a better crowd than they’ve seen before in this town. “I’m not going to lie, when you come here during the regular season, the stands aren’t always as full as they could be,” Carlo said. “But I expect it to be very loud.”