BOSTON – Bruins head coach Claude Julien repeated his oft-repeated line about there being no “blueprint” for his goaltending rotation after tonight’s 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Detroit tonight at TD Garden.
But the coach had already proven that notion by his actions, as he yanked Tuukka Rask after two periods. Now the bench boss is in a sticky situation when it comes to keeping both goaltenders sharp and rewarding Tim Thomas with a start in his hometown Sunday.
Obviously, it wasn’t written in stone, but the Bruins wanted to go with Rask tonight for the first time in eight days, and then put their No. 1 netminder between the pipes Sunday for the NBC matinee in front of tons of Thomas’ closest friends and family at Joe Louis Arena.
After the Red Wings built the early lead – 2-1, after one period and, 3-1, 1:09 into the second – Julien could’ve stuck with the script or torn it up. He had the chance to pull Rask while the game was still within reach or leave him out there to find his groove. The coach opted to wait to throw a “Hail Mary” down 5-1 that basically just threw everything off kilter.
Heading into the third, the Bruins had the chance to let Rask get his work in against a Red Wings club that probably had pulled off the accelerator. Instead, Julien turned to Thomas for the final 20 minutes of mop-up duty playing behind a team that had left its heart and energy on the ice Wednesday after the fight-filled victory over Montreal.
“We didn’t feel he was as sharp as we needed him to be. That was No. 1,” said Julien of the odd-timed decision. “He still made some good saves. We did recognize that as well. But I think he just wasn’t sharp tonight and after discussing the situation we just felt the right thing to do was give Timmy the third period.”
Thomas made 14 saves on 15 shots, which is fortunate because no one wants him risking his single-season save percentage record in a game the Red Wings could’ve beaten the Bruins with one skate on. Rask, meanwhile, refused to argue with his coach’s decision.
“I’m not going to start analyzing that,” he said. “I thought I deserved to be pulled. I didn’t play at my level today.”
The last time Rask was pulled, Jan. 1 at Buffalo, Julien turned right back to him two nights later in Toronto. The sophomore sensation rewarded the coach’s faith with a fantastic 37-save victory. Speaking to the media just 25 minutes after the final horn tonight, Julien wasn’t ready to put his goaltender cards on the table.
But going right back to Rask this time isn’t that simple. Not only does Thomas deserve the chance to make the start in Motown (depending on the NHL schedule the next couple years, it could be his last chance to play there), the Bruins’ skaters deserve to have their best goaltender behind them when the rematch with Detroit’s version of the “Big Red [Wing] Machine.”
One 15-shot period probably didn’t tire Thomas out, although it ruined what would’ve been a perfect night of complete rest. He should still be ready to go at his best Sunday. However, this was still a risk Julien shouldn’t have taken. Thomas could’ve been off his game coming into a lopsided game that late, or – heaven forbid – he could’ve been hurt. The worst games for players, especially goaltenders, to play are the ones that turn into glorified public skates like tonight’s.
As for Rask, waiting until Tuesday – at the earliest – to try to make up for his 40-minute debacle could feel as long as sitting out an entire summer after a playoff collapse.
Julien always has to weigh what’s best for his team against sentiment against what’s best for his netminders’ psyche. At this crucial stage of the season, his goaltender choice for the next few games will intensified. He made his job a lot more difficult by pulling Rask for Thomas tonight, when doing nothing probably would’ve been the best move.