Bruce Cassidy always thought Tuukka Rask gave the Boston Bruins the best chance to win — as long as his No. 1 goaltender was healthy.
When the chips were down, Rask — despite playing with a torn labrum in his hip — felt good to go, and that was enough for Cassidy and the Bruins’ coaching staff to send him out. Despite a second-round Stanley Cup playoffs exit, Cassidy has no regrets with how he handled Rask’s situation.
“He felt ready to go, so then it goes on to me to make the final call. Who gives us the best chance to win? And I chose Tuukka. No regrets on that,” Cassidy explained Monday morning in his final video conference with reporters before the summer.
Cassidy said Rask, himself, goalie coach Bob Essensa and the team’s medical staff met every day in the playoffs to give a status report. As long as Rask felt he could go, he was going in the net, even with rookie Jeremy Swayman ready to go in case Rask wasn’t healthy enough.
The head coach did reveal he sought out plenty of feedback from others, including some of the Bruins’ veteran core of players. Given the vocal defense of Rask in recent days, it’s no surprise which decision they leaned.
“Some of those decisions also go through the leadership group,” he explained. “Where are you guys at with your mental psyche with the goaltending? They were all on board with Tuukka as well. They certainly believe in Swayman, but Tuukka has been there and done that. That’s where that decision came from and at the end of the day, it didn’t work out.”
After a shaky performance in Game 5 against the New York Islanders, the Bruins pulled Rask heading into the third period. As Cassidy explained then and reiterated Monday, once they knew the starter was healthy enough to give it a go, he was going to be the choice for a do-or-die Game 6.
“Once we get all the information from Tuukka that he was good to go, then you say start factoring in performance, does the other guy give you a better chance to win?” Cassidy said. “As I said, we felt Tuukka’s performance — other than Game 5 — was very good, and it’s perfectly normal for a goalie to have an off-night. You’re more worried, was it because of an injury? Is it because you’re off? Is it because of the team in front of you, etc.? We clarified the next day he was ready to go and fit, so we stuck with him.”
Now, a fascinating offseason awaits the Bruins. Rask said he’ll undergo offseason surgery and could be ready to go by January or February. However, he’s also an unrestricted free agent, although he insisted he doesn’t want to play for any NHL team other than the Bruins.