Rask opting out doesnt change Bruins goal to go deep in Playoffs

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He would not start for them against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, he would not play for them again in the playoffs this season.   

Still, so much remained the same: the plan against the Hurricanes, the goal to win a Stanley Cup, the immediate needs for a noon start in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against Carolina. 

Most everything, other than the name on the back of the starting goalie’s jersey: Jaroslav Halak, instead of Rask.

“The message — we’re not going to change the way we play, no matter who’s in nets,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’ve proven that with Jaro here for the last two years and now the playoffs. We know he’s a capable goaltender. The only issue for us is, Jaro hasn’t played a lot. So you want to make sure you allow him a reasonable time to get back into game mode. So that was the message.”

And the result, too, was what they had hoped for, a 3-1 win in Game 3 against the Hurricanes, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 is Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, SN, FS-CR, NESN) in Toronto, the hub city for the Eastern Conference. 

Video: Bruins win Game 3 without Rask, take 2-1 series lead

Halak, regarded as a 1B goalie to Rask’s 1A, was up to the task on Saturday. Other than a single miscue, albeit a significant one, when he played the puck from behind the net directly to Nino Niederreiter, resulting in the Hurricanes’ only goal, Halak was excellent in Game 3. Halak, who combined with Rask to win the William M. Jennings Trophy this season with the fewest goals against in the NHL (167), made 29 saves. 

This season he was 18-6-6 with a 2.39 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 31 games (29 starts). Rask was 28-8-6 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 41 games, all starts, and is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the top goalie in the NHL.   

“Jaro is a popular guy,” Cassidy said. “They know his abilities. Now it could be his turn to have a nice run. I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, if we want to reach our goals, we’re going to need a goaltender in there to help us get there. No team gets there without solid goaltending.

“Maybe this is Jaro’s year.”

Cassidy, like the players, found out about Rask’s decision on Saturday. Cassidy called the news “a bit of a shocker at first,” though general manager Don Sweeney had said earlier in the day that, “I don’t think it’s any big surprise to us, to be honest with you.”

Surprise or not, Cassidy, Sweeney, and Bruins players all voiced unequivocal support for Rask, who has played in 526 games for Boston since his NHL debut in 2007-08. 

Family, they said over and over again, comes first. 

“Obviously our first concern is the health and safety of his family,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “That’s the most important thing we were all kind of thinking about and obviously we support Tuukka’s decision. There’s nothing more important than your family.”

Rask and his wife had their third daughter, Livia, in April. 

“We’re supporting him,” Patrice Bergeron said. “We’re behind him and we understand. Family comes first. We’ve always said that.”

Bergeron, who has two young children, acknowledged that it’s not easy being in the bubble in Toronto, away from his family. It’s a strain that every player is handling in his own way. 

“Thank God for technology and FaceTime and having the support of your teammates,” Bergeron said. “That goes a long way. Obviously, miss them very much and try to reach out every day and catch up with them. With that being said, the support of my group, I’m trying to be there for them. They’re there for me. That’s how I look at it. But it’s not easy. 

“I don’t judge anyone that is making that decision.”

They know it will only get more difficult from here, as they play on, without their starting goalie, without the player who was so significant in getting them to the Stanley Cup Final last season, when they lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues. 

“We have to move forward,” said Charlie Coyle, who had a goal and an assist on Saturday. “We have to come together, band together and everybody has a little more responsibility on their shoulders. But we’re capable of that.”

The Bruins had brought four goalies to Toronto. Halak will be backed up by the combination of Dan Vladar and Max Lagace. Vladar, who was the backup on Saturday, has yet to make his NHL debut. Lagace has 17 career games in the League, but none this season. 

Halak, meanwhile, has 31 games of postseason experience, but had not started a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2015 for the New York Islanders. He did start one game for the Bruins in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.  

“I support his decision and I just want to step in and help the guys,” Halak said of Rask. “I think they will do the same for me.”

So that’s where the Bruins’ focus is now. They’re moving forward. They’re looking ahead. 

“I know it sounds cold, but on the professional part of it, we have a job to do here. We move on,” Cassidy said. “It’s Jaro in nets, and then be there for Tuukka. So that’s our game plan right now. 

“Happy for Jaro, and I’m sure Tuukka is as well. … He’s just trying to take care of his family and we’re trying to take care of business here in Toronto.”
 

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