Tuukka Rask learned a long time ago that life is easier when you own your mistakes. Standing in front of a locker stall Tuesday night, he was as frank and forthright as ever.
Sometimes, he explained, the puck looks like a golf ball. You wake up feeling OK, prepare as you normally would, but once you face your first shots, it all goes south.
The eyes aren’t tracking well enough, the limbs aren’t firing quickly enough, and by night’s end, Canadien loyalists are toasting to your misfortune in the bars near the Bell Centre.
So what gives?
“Hey, if I knew,” Rask shrugged, “it probably would never happen.”
Fair enough. Everyone’s allowed a bad day.
Saying that isn’t to absolve him, even though he and Bruins cohort Jaroslav Halak had been swatting away beach balls in this 11-2-2 start. Rask is paid $7 million to suffer the slings and arrows, no matter how outrageous the fortune. The standard is high — championship or bust — because this town demands it, and he and his cohort have proven it should be.
We’re about 18 percent of the way through the season, and the Bruins have two regulation losses. If the NHL’s video replay system was kinder to them, they might have zero. But officiating angst aside, that game in Montreal was winnable, unless you’re dyed-in-the-wool enough to believe the system is rigged.
The Bruins scored four times. Five, if officials had granted Charlie Coyle possession as he entered the zone on the disallowed third-period goal that would have given the Bruins the same 5-4 lead the Habs celebrated when time ran out.
They just didn’t have the goaltending. Rask’s numbers — five goals on 31 shots — were his worst of the season. He hadn’t allowed more than three all year, and he only did that at Vegas and versus Tampa Bay. The Bruins took three points from those two games.
They left Montreal empty-handed. Victor Mete slipped one short-side from the high slot, though Rask was compromised by Joel Armia cross-checking Torey Krug into him.
“You can’t challenge a non-penalty call,” coach Bruce Cassidy noted.
There was more to pick apart. Tomas Tatar beat Rask from the circle, low glove, on a quick-developing 2-on-1. Paul Byron got him through the five-hole. Those two were on Rask.
He had little chance to stop Mete’s second, which made it 4-3 in the second. Zdeno Chara shoved Nate Thompson into the netminder, which brought no pity from referees Francois St. Laurent and Marc Joannette, two men who won’t be cheered when they work their next game in Boston.
The third-period winner, from above the dot on a shot by defenseman Ben Chiarot, was a backbreaker, simple and plain.
“I saw it,” Rask said. “It hit my glove, and it bounced off my leg. Middle of the net. You know.”
Cassidy did, too. As well as his ace had been playing, he figured one of those nights was coming.
“And it was tonight,” he said. “He wasn’t as sharp. We battled back, so it would have been nice to get that last save. But he’s human. He’s been real good for us. So that’s going to happen to everybody.”
Even Rask, who fell from first in the NHL to third in goals-against average (1.88), and first to fourth in save percentage (.936). Quelle horreur.
Did the ghosts of the old Forum play a role? If you want to assign physical powers to such mysticism, know that Rask allowed nine goals in his previous six starts in Montreal (6-0-0), dating to 2015. His trouble with the Habs mostly came early in his career, when he was on the winning end just four times in 22 regular-season starts overall (4-15-3).
If there’s a concern with Boston’s netminding, it’s slight, and it rests mostly with Halak, who has allowed four goals in each of his last three starts. He wasn’t terrible against Pittsburgh on Monday, giving up all four in a second period in which the Bruins forgot to tie their skates, but his previous two were a bit leaky — twin .862 save percentages against the Rangers and Leafs. Despite this recent sag, the Bruins still rank third in goals-against average (2.33). They have one of the best goalie tandems in the game, as evidenced by last month, and last year’s 107-point season and Stanley Cup Final run. (If you want to relitigate Game 7: It wasn’t Rask’s fault; that’s our story, we’re sticking to it.)
Across the league, teams have allowed five or more goals about 20 percent of the time. In Boston, 6 percent. Once in 15 games. That was Tuesday, when Rask spit the bit in Montreal.
If he starts in Detroit on Friday, and Red Wings fans leave Little Caesars Arena wondering why the Bruins lured Andre “Red Light” Racicot out of retirement and handed him No. 40, then we’ll start to worry.
But don’t expect it. First of all, the Wings aren’t any good. And believe it or not, Rask is.