Certainly, the playoff series between the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders had its share of controversy during the six games. There were the penalty calls, or lack thereof, and Bruce Cassidy using the “New York Saints” moniker as part of the series gamesmanship.
There was also the health of B’s starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, who we all now know was playing with torn labrum in his hip that’s going to require surgery in the offseason. It certainly seemed that the 33-year-old Rask was struggling with the hip as the series wore on against the Islanders, and the .897 save percentage would attest to that along with the banged-up condition of the defensemen corps as well.
Clearly there was an argument to be made to start rookie Jeremy Swayman in the latter points of the series, particularly with a group of Bruins defenseman that were struggling to effectively move and manage the puck.
Rask himself admitted that things got more challenging from a health standpoint as the playoff starts compounded on each other, and the workload got heavier in an extended second round series.
“It was hard because I had it all year. We had to manage my workload really well during the [regular] season, so you don’t have to play a lot of games in a row. Obviously, in the playoffs, you play every other night, so it’s hard…but it never got to a point where I couldn’t play,” said Rask. “The reason I missed time during the season was because I was compensating that hip injury with my other muscles and then my back seized up and I could barely walk for a week over there.
“That’s why I missed the time. The hip itself was never the issue. It just locks up on me every once in a while, and that’s why you see me kind of limping out there. Obviously, it’s not easy to play with a labral tear as a goalie, but like I said a couple days ago, I think our training staff did a great job maintaining it and keeping me out there.”
To be fair to everybody involved, the question was never whether or not Rask was healthy enough to play. The question really was whether or not Rask was anywhere close to his normal 100 percent self while playing through an injury that required surgery, something one sees out of position players but not so much goaltenders in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It seemed that Rask wasn’t in any condition to stand on his head or steal a game or two, and Swayman had knocked the rust off after his relief appearance in Game 5 of the series. In the days following the end of the Bruins/Islanders series, Bruce Cassidy has been second-guessed more for sticking with Rask than perhaps anything else in his bench boss career with the Black and Gold.
But all that being, Cassidy said he had “no regrets” about riding with Rask after the Boston Bruins head coach consulted with Rask himself, the coaching staff, the medical staff and even the leadership group inside the Bruins dressing room.
“We were never going to run out a player who wasn’t fit to play,” said Cassidy on Monday morning in his season-ending zoom with Boston Bruins reporters. “[Rask] regularly told us he was ready to go. In Game 5 going into the second period, I thought he didn’t look as sharp. [Bruins goaltending coach] Bob [Essensa] talked to him, he said he was lacking some energy, so we said, ‘We’ll go with Swayman in the third, and then we’ll sort out Game 6.’
“He went through his routine, his maintenance. He didn’t skate a lot between games, (but) he got the morning skate in and felt ready to go. And then it comes onto me. I have to make the final call on who gives us the best chance to win, and I choose Tuukka. So, no regrets on that. I feel he gave us the best chance to win.”
As it turns out, Rask allowed four goals on 27 shots in the Game 6 loss to the Bruins and didn’t look particularly sharp, aggressive or healthy to give the B’s their best shot to win. Nobody will ever know if playing Swayman could have spurred on a different outcome in the series for the Boston Bruins, but it’s clear the B’s are second-guessing themselves at this point.