If the New York Islanders are hoping to even their Second Round series with the Boston Bruins one thing has to change, and that’s making life harder on Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Rask, and any goaltender in the sport of hockey will tell you that they are at their best when they do not have to do too much. When they can rely on positioning over reflexes, the game becomes much easier to control, and the outcome usually ends up in their favor.
Relying on structure rather than reflexes is especially critical when playing hurt. Rask is dealing with a nagging injury.
For the veteran netminder, he was able to follow that game plan to a tee thanks to the Islanders’ inability to generate offensive pressure.
The New York Islanders mustered 29 shots through three-plus periods of hockey as Rask played well. However, very few of those shots were challenging for the veteran netminder as he turned aside most with ease.
More often than not, the Islander shots hit Rask right in the logo. He was not forced to move side to side, and one could not tell that he was injured in any way.
It was more quantity over quality, and even then, the quantity should have been much higher.
The 34-year old veteran netminder was not spectacular in the Bruins overtime win because, quite frankly, he did not have to be. He was positionally sound all night long and seemed very comfortable any time the Islanders entered the offensive zone.
The New York Islanders did not get a ton of looks due to the strong Bruins defense but there were times when the chances to let the puck go on Rask were there, but a pass or hesitation erased the opportunity.
The most opportune time to make a goaltender work is when he has to kill penalties. The Islanders were gifted with three power-play opportunities to make up for their lack of offense at even strength. But those opportunities went by the w.
On those three chances, the Islanders totaled five shots. The Bruins had two power-play opportunities in the game and collected eight shots on goal.
The Islanders’ power play had been great through two games at 50% (three for six) but did not have it Thursday night. They were back to turnovers and hesitation.
When the Islanders take any sort of time to shoot, Rask had more time to establish his positioning. He did not have to dive to make any saves or react quickly to a scoring chance. It was as if he was just going through the motions as the pucks came his way.
“We are going to have to get a little greasier,” said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz when asked about doing more to disrupt Rask. “A little harder on him. He was good.”
A greasy goal is just how the Islanders got their only tally of the night, thanks to a strong effort by Mathew Barzal.
First goal of the playoffs from Mat Barzal comes at a GREAT time.
— The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) June 4, 2021
Beating a goaltender of Rask’s caliber is never an easy task. But when a team allows him to get a feel for a game and get in control, the likelihood of scoring decreases exponentially.
It was not to say that the Islanders did not have prime chances to score. Anthony Beauvillier, the Islanders’ hottest forward, had two breakaways and was denied twice.
On both chances, Rask did not have to move. He again relied on his positioning to turn aside both shots.
The first one, Beauvillier elected to shoot high-blocker, the same place Casey Cizikas won Game 2 for their team. Rask seemed ready for that shot, as he was in the perfect position to stop and control the rebound.
On the second breakaway, Rask slid back in his goal but remained compact. He did not open up, and again, no rebound opportunity following the Grade A chance.
Beauvillier nearly gives the Islanders the lead. Had Nelson with him too. pic.twitter.com/GWoOfIfUiu
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) June 4, 2021
In overtime, in which the Islanders dominated before Brad Marchand’s goal, Rask came up large.
Tuukka Rask with some major stops just ahead of Marchand’s winner:
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) June 4, 2021
The former Vezina winner had failed to control his rebound on Jordan Eberle’s shot in overtime, one of the few mistakes he made. Barzal followed it up with a chance of his own off the rebound.
That is when the Islanders needed to make it count.
Rask did not have to move too much to stop either shot.
When the puck drops for Game 4, the Islanders need to do a better job at getting Rask out of his element and make it harder for him to get comfortable.
That is how they will even up this series on Saturday.
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