Ramblings: Rask Opts Out, Halak Leads Bruins To Win (Aug 16)
Saturday started with a bombshell with the announcement of Tuukka Rask's decision to opt out of the NHL's postseason. This announcement came just hours before the Bruins were set to face Carolina in Game 3.
From a human standpoint, I completely understand this decision. Rask has a newborn at home as well as two other children. Being away from family for an indefinite period won't be easy, and being fully committed to a team's Stanley Cup hopes is that much more difficult considering the times we now live in. This was no doubt a difficult decision that was weighing heavily on him. Now is not the time to be judging someone for a decision they make on whether to play or not to play, even if the timing isn’t ideal for the Bruins. Everyone's situation is unique.
I also wonder if Rask's decision is simply a one-off, or if it will create a domino effect for other players that have also been thinking about leaving the bubble. Rask is a high-profile player, and it's human nature to wait for someone else to raise their hand before raising your own. He is obviously not the first player to opt out of the return to play, but I believe he is the first to opt out for non-injury reasons since actual games resumed.
From a hockey standpoint, Boston's playoff hopes now ride on the shoulders of Jaroslav Halak. We've seen that he's a great fit for the almost-even split in duties between him and Rask. However, he has struggled in the recent past when he was the #1 guy. I'm referencing the 3.22 GAA and .908 SV% from his 53 GP as an Islander in 2017-18, but that was under a much worse defensive system than what the Bruins have today. So it's possible that Boston won't skip a beat with Halak taking over. Carolina, with its ability to drive the play on its opponents, will be a big test.
Boston 3, Carolina 1 (Boston leads series 2-1)
It didn't take long for us to find out how well Halak would fare as the starter. He stopped 29 of 30 shots to lead a focused Bruins team to a much-needed Game 3 win. His only mistake was on a third-period clearing attempt from behind his net, which went straight to Nino Niederreiter and into the open net. In spite of this one gaffe, Halak's Game 3 performance was reassuring.
Niederreiter's goal was his first in five postseason games. He returned to the Canes lineup after not dressing for Game 2.
Unfortunately, the Hurricanes could be looking at an injury to Andrei Svechnikov. His leg twisted awkwardly as he fell while getting tangled with Zdeno Chara. There may not be much in the way of updates here, but you'd have to bet on Svechnikov missing time. That would be a massive blow to the Canes.
Despite the loss, Petr Mrazek was named the second star on the NBC telecast. He stopped 36 of 38 Bruins shots he faced, as the third goal was an empty-netter. Based on this performance, Mrazek seems like the likely starter for Game 4 on Monday evening.
Arizona 4, Colorado 2 (Colorado leads series 2-1)
The Mountain Men were by far the better team in this game, but the goalie stole this one for the Desert Dogs. Darcy Kuemper stopped 49 of 51 shots he faced, giving the Coyotes a much-needed victory. I'm not surprised that Kuemper has been able to stand on his head. Earlier this season he looked like he was on his way to a Vezina Trophy nomination before an injury just before Christmas sidelined him for two months. It would be nearly a miracle if the Coyotes can pull off a series win against a much faster-paced Avalanche team, but they'll need air-tight goaltending from Kuemper for that to happen.
The Avalanche decided to give Pavel Francouz a try for Game 3. He stopped 19 of 21 shots in the loss, so it might be back to Philipp Grubauer for Game 4. If the Avs have an Achilles heel, it might be in net.
Joonas Donskoi returned to the Avalanche lineup, although he played just 11 minutes.
With an assist, Nathan MacKinnon was able to continue his point streak intact. So far he has recorded at least one point in the Avs' six games. MacKinnon also fired seven shots in Game 3, as did Cale Makar.
Tampa Bay 3, Columbus 2 (Tampa Bay leads series 2-1)
While we're discussing point streaks, Brayden Point extended his to six games with the second-period goal he scored in Game 3. However, it was Victor Hedman's first goal of the playoffs later in the second period that held up as the game-winner.
Columbus took only 17 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy, scoring on two of them. They'll need to increase that total in order to keep up with Tampa.
The Bolts were still without Steven Stamkos, who has still not played a game since February.
Vegas 2, Chicago 1 (Vegas leads series 3-0)
There were several lineup changes for the Golden Knights in this game, the most noticeable of which was Marc-Andre Fleury making his first start in this series. Giving Fleury the start over Robin Lehner made sense because this was the first game of a back-to-back. Expect Lehner to be better rested today (Sunday) as the Golden Knights attempt to sweep Chicago. Fleury was solid in this game, stopping 26 of 27 shots in earning the win. If Vegas plays more back-to-backs, then expect more splits like this. Otherwise, Lehner should be considered the Vegas starter in this year's playoffs.
Max Pacioretty also returned to the lineup in Game 3 after missing Game 2. He was held without a point, although he was back on his usual line with Mark Stone. Vegas was without Paul Stastny for this game, which meant that Chandler Stephenson was able to stay in the top 6 on the line with Patches and Stone.
Since this series is all but over, we should place the Golden Knights on the short list on teams that can win the Stanley Cup. If there was any worry about round-robin teams not being ready for teams playing must-wins in the play-in round, Vegas simply does not fall into that category. They've now won all six of their postseason games. Having said that, they will be facing tougher tests than Chicago. Those should be entertaining matches to watch.
As for Chicago, can we say that they've actually exceeded expectations in this postseason, even if they're on the verge of getting swept? This was a team that wouldn't have made the playoffs had the NHL season been able to finish as normal. Yet the Hawks took out Edmonton, even though they were a clear underdog. If you drafted Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, or Dominik Kubalik in your postseason pool, you got your money's worth with all three players scoring at a point per game. There's enough young talent in Chicago (Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, Adam Boqvist) that they might not bottom out completely like many other teams that reach the top of the mountain.
One other thing: Look for the Top 100 Roto Rankings to be posted later today.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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