Bruins, Rask ready to brush off season finale, be ‘in fine form' for the playoffs

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BOSTON – As confidence boosters go, it wasn’t a very good one headed into the playoffs.

Tuukka Rask gave up five goals on 21 shots in a 6-3 loss on Saturday afternoon in the B’s regular season finale, and had a rough third period that included whiffing with his glove hand on a Braydon Coburn wrist shot from just inside the blue line.

They weren’t all bad goals on Rask, of course, and the Bruins were playing without Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller as they rested all of those regulars ahead of next week’s playoff start. It was also a difficult game for Rask as well with nothing really on the line for two teams that were already positioned for their playoff start, and not a whole lot of intense, tight defense being played in front of him as a result of that.

“Let’s get it going. Couple days of rest and a couple practices and that’s it. [The playoffs is] best time of the year,” said Rask, who was honored by the Bruins prior to the game with an oil painting commemorating him as the winningest goaltender in Bruins franchise history. “It was kind of like a pond hockey game. Guys are just saucing pucks. I don’t know. It’s just like you try not to stress about it because [the game] doesn’t really mean anything, you know?

“It’s not the greatest feeling, especially when you’re playing against Tampa too. You want to play like every other game and go in there and stop every puck, and that’s the only thing you can control.”

Clearly there’s not much to read into Game No. 82 of the regular season, and Rask stopped a string of mediocre performances with a 32-save performance in a 6-2 road win over the Blue Jackets earlier this week. Rask also played in only 46 games this season while getting steady backup support from Jaroslav Halak like he’s never had before, so it should all be setting up for Boston’s No. 1 goalie to be the freshest, most effective he’s ever been in the postseason.

That’s saying something for a guy with a career .924 save percentage, but it’s also clear the Bruins are going to need him to be their best players on most nights if they’re going to take a long run into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I don’t think he’s that concerned about [the final game vs. Tampa] other than he’s a professional and wants to play well every time he’s in the net,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We gave up two breakaway goals, so some of that we have to be better in front of him. I don’t know if the last one...one definitely went off [Danton] Heinen’s stick, so there were some deflected ones.

“I believe he’ll be ready to go Thursday and in good form, but that’s why we play the games. We’ll find out. I don’t know if it would be one of his best seasons ever. It certainly would be one of his better ones, I would assume. I think he’s very fresh going into the playoffs. Some years in the past, you could ask him that if he was or wasn’t. I assume – I don’t assume, I know he is. He hasn’t been overworked, so that’s a positive.”

The one big difference for this season when it comes to Rask, and a fairly solid season where he posted a .912 save percentage and a 2.48 goals against average when it’s all said and done? If Rask isn’t up to top form at any point in the playoffs, this will be the first time that the Bruins have a backup goaltender in Jaroslav Halak that can come in and step into the void.

The Rask/Halak dynamic will either force Rask to be at peak performance at all times in this postseason as a rested, experienced goalie that should be a strength for the Black and Gold, or there’s a very good chance Halak will also get some postseason action just as the goaltenders nearly split duties during the regular season.

Either way, it’s highly doubtful anybody is going to see the passive defense or distracted goaltending that seemed to be at play in a Saturday afternoon matinee where nothing really mattered with the playoffs right around the corner. 

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