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Can Tuukka Rask play center?


Tuukka Rask is back in Boston.

Tuukka Rask is back in Boston.
Image: Getty Images

It is cute, if not delicious, that Tuukka Rask’s imminent return to the Boston Bruins is being greeted as something of the cavalry arriving. Because Bruins fans (and media) have never hesitated to throw whatever available cutlery was around at Tuke Nuke ‘Em every spring because he wasn’t Tim Thomas, when the Bruins would spit it. Rask is inches away from winning two Cups (Chara hitting the post in 2OT in Game 1 in the ‘13 Final, losing Game 7 at home in ‘19), but for most of his career he’s been at the top of the list as to why the Bruins aren’t parading down Causeway St. come June — no matter how wrong it usually was.

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The thing is, Rask’s Bruins teams all fell at some hurdle for the same reason as the ones the Bruins are barely clinging on to a wildcard spot now. Rask couldn’t solve the problems from the crease then, and he can’t solve them returning to it now. Maybe if he could convince David Krejčí to join him…

That return would also likely not propel the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference, because their problem isn’t goaltending, or at least it’s far from their biggest fault. The Bruins are sixth in the league in goals against at 2.59 and 17th in the league at even-strength save-percentage, but 13th in overall save-percentage thanks to some excellent work on the penalty kill. And if there’s one team that doesn’t require elite goaltending to win, it’s the Bruins. Boston has had a tradition of being a puck-dominant, defensively ridiculous team.

That’s no different now. The Bruins are the only team giving up less than two expected goals per 60 minutes of even-strength time (per NaturalStatTrick.com). They give up next to nothing.

If there’s one criticism of the Bruins goaltending duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, it is that they don’t make the saves they shouldn’t make, even if they make almost all of the saves they should. Swayman has a 3.0 goals saved above expected in 15 appearances, and Linus Ullmark is at -0.2 (for reference, the leader in this category is Toronto’s Jack Campbell at 19.2). But again, there’s no team that requires “the big save” less than the Bruins.

Rask certainly won’t cripple the Bruins financially, as he’s likely to sign for the minimum. That should leave the Bs some cap space to address their bigger problem, the problem they’ve had for years, getting anyone to score beyond their top line, which remains one of the best in hockey.

Even saying that, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak haven’t scored at their usual rate either. Pastrnak only has nine goals, thanks to a shooting-percentage that has cratered (7.3 percent against a career mark of 13.7). Marchand is over a point per game, but only has 11 goals, as does Bergeron. All of these should rebound, because it’s just down to luck. Pastrnak isn’t suffering from a lack of chances or shots, he just can’t get anything to go in. Those shots eventually will.

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But behind them, it’s icky. Taylor Hall is still there, but he’s been let down from the Bruins attempt to make Charlie Coyle a No. 2 center, which is akin to replacing a busted tire with an actual donut. Coyle is fine as a bottom-six bum-slayer, but the Bs fell in love with his 2019 playoff run which he was never going to replicate. He has 16 points on the year.

Lately, coach Bruce Cassidy has split up the Perfection Line to pair Pastrnak with Hall, but they’ve been flanking Erik Haula, who is a career grinder and worker bee. If he’s in your top six, the house needs work. No one on the Bruins beyond the top line has more than eight goals. Then again, when you sign professional gas leak Nick Foligno to nearly $4 million for two years, maybe you get what you deserve.

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The Bruins don’t get much offensive help from their blue line either. Charlie McAvoy, somehow one of the league’s best two-way d-men even though he always has the facial expression of someone who just got punched in the balls, has five goals. Every other d-man has 12 combined.

Again, because Rask is willing to play for nothing after making $60 million already, it won’t really handicap the Bruins in whatever their bids are to improve their scoring. And if he should prove to be past it, the combination of Ullmark and Swayman have proven they can be protect the net behind the Bs stellar defense.

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However,none of that will do much for the Bruins path in the playoffs. They will still have to go through some combination of Florida, Tampa, and Toronto (though the latter won’t hold much fear for them, will it?). Swayman is just 23, and his time will come at some point if not this year.

Still, you can’t help but laugh at the welcome mat Rask is getting, when in the past it was always a rail to carry him out of town, and the problems are all still the same that he can’t do anything about.

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