In a wide-ranging interview with veteran puck scribe Joe Haggerty and yours truly on NBC Sports Boston, Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t shy about the fact he is very open to resting his veteran core and other star players during the round-robin round of the NHL Return to play plan.
“We absolutely could rest players,” Cassidy said. “The first area we start with, Tuukka [Rask] is our guy. We’re very confident in [Jaroslav] Halak, but Tuukka is our playoff goaltender and he was going to start Game 1 [of the playoffs] with all things being equal. What does he need?”
Halak has been a Godsend for Rask and the Bruins since signing with them back on July 1, 2018. His solid play this season (18-6-6, 2.39 GAA) spelled the relief Rask needed to have another Vezina Trophy-worthy season as he went 26-8-6 with a league-leading 2.12 GAA and the second-best save percentage in the NHL at .929. Former Bruin and Dallas Stars back-up goalie Anton Khudobin was first at .930 but he played ten fewer games than Rask. Halak’s body of work over the last two seasons earned him a new, one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Bruins for the 2020-21 season but it sure sounds like he may not have to wait until then to start again.
The Bruins veteran leadership core of captain Zdeno Chara (43), Patrice Bergeron (34), David Krejci (34), Tuukka Rask (33) Brad Marchand (32) and Torey Krug (29) hasn’t shown any signs of wearing down but as Cassidy pointed out, he needs to find a balance of shaking off the rust and allowing them to be physically fresh for the playoffs. Cassidy understands that the three round-robin games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers will determine the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference but given the fact, all teams will be playing in a neutral hub city there will be no home advantage for any team so resting the core won’t hurt as much.
“Do our veterans need all three games to get to the top of their game?” Cassidy asked rhetorically. “Even if they do, should we play them and risk injuries? There’s a lot that goes into it. I think every team is probably going to have a little of the same approach [in the round robin] and they are going to want to be at their best and healthiest headed into the playoffs.”
Cassidy stressed that the Bruins want to win each round-robin game and if – and they likely will – the likes of Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, Rask, Marchand, and Krug insist on playing all games, then he will just have to shorten their shifts here and there.
“Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game. But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period, we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”