Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have been essential in making the Boston Bruins a dangerous team in the NHL. The Bruins goaltenders have split the season pretty evenly and Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has been open about not having a clear number one. But when the playoffs come around, he will have a tough decision that not many other coaches have to make at this point of the season.
Which Boston Bruins Goaltender will Likely Start in the Playoffs
The obvious answer is to start Rask in round one. He’s been playing well and is also the goaltender making more money. It would make sense that the Bruins want to get the most for out of what they’re paying for, especially if he’s on his game.
Rask has a 26-11-5 record and a 2.42 goals-against average at this point in the season and looks like he can carry that weight as he’s done before. The doubt surrounding Rask is that he won’t be able to get them back to the Cup Final or win it.
The alternative is, of course, going with Halak. When he plays, the Bruins tend to play well, but where Halak might excel is in the relief role. If the Bruins go down 2-0 or 3-1 in the series, starting Halak could be the right way to revamp the Bruins and show their opponent a different goaltender between the pipes.
Unless Rask cruises through the first three rounds, it would be a shame to not see Halak get any more playing time this year. He posted a 21-10-4 record and a 2.33 GAA in five fewer games than Rask.
Teams in the Past
The Anaheim Ducks are a recent example of this situation in the playoffs. They switched off John Gibson and Frederik Andersen for the 2015-16 year — Gibson recorded one more start than his counterpart in the regular season.
As the first seed in the Pacific Division, the Ducks started with Gibson. They lost the first two games of the series to the Nashville Predators, both by a score of 3-2. For Game 3, the decision was made to go with Andersen to see if things changed. Anaheim responded with three consecutive wins to take the lead in the series. The master plan was eventually foiled by the Predators, as they took the final two games of the series.
But the point is that they ditched their plan after going down 2-0 in the first round and found success in the other goaltender that got them to that point. Should Rask struggle early, the Bruins shouldn’t feel any shame in trying Halak for some games in order to survive.
Other Teams with a Similar Problem Now
There are only a few other teams inside the playoff picture that have a similar situation with which goalie to start if they clinch.
Halak’s former team, the New York Islanders, have used Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss the same way as the Bruins this year. Lehner currently has one more start than Greiss, but the two have near-identical GAAs and save percentages. That decision seems to be a true toss-up.
The other team is the Carolina Hurricanes, who have turned their season around after missing the playoffs last year by 14 points. Ever since they recognized their goaltending issues, they found success with Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. Mrazek has the edge with more games played and a lower GAA, so it’s more likely that he will start if they clinch, but both have been strong in the regular season.
Before the Playoffs
The Bruins still have five games left in the regular season. While it looks like Rask is the more likely candidate to start in the post-season, the tougher remaining games might show us for sure who Cassidy might play in the post-season.
That game might just be against the Columbus Blue Jackets — not the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blue Jackets are going to come out looking for a win to get into or stay in the post-season picture by the time that game gets played on April 2. So while the last game of the year against Tampa Bay might be a fun playoff preview, whoever is in net for the Bruins against the Blue Jackets might be who we see in Game 1 of the first round.